Time has been kind to Cat Stevens’s reputation — his estrangement from the music business and rad BAME credentials bestowing upon him an edginess which his mimsy fragile-voiced soft rock never really deserved. It’s the kind of retrospective benediction usually only death from some bad skag at the age of 27 can provide. Never mind anything else, I’d have barred him entry to the US just for calling an album Teaser and the Firecat. This one, meanwhile, is described as ‘his 1970 masterpiece’. Really? I don’t think so, although in its original incarnation it was pleasant enough on the ears, tinkling away on the turntable in the infant school staffroom.
This is the album ‘reimagined’ by Yusuf. That means a drenching of strings and some rap, natch. The strongest song — ‘Wild World’ — has become a weird accordion-driven calypso, the pretty hook lost in the process. ‘On The Road To Find Out’ is transformed into agreeable early 1970s funk and there is a certain poignancy in hearing both the 22-year-old Cat and the present one singing alternate verses of ‘Father and Son’.
But why do it at all? Allah only knows, and he ain’t telling. Cat Stevens has been praised by critics recently for his ‘prescience’ in writing about environmental disaster in ‘Where Do the Children Play?’. Don’t these clowns know that every other song in 1970 was about environmental disaster? The obsessions of pop musicians rarely change. Cat remains for me a singer-songwriter, who, tellingly — like James Taylor and Harry Nilsson — had his most enduring hit with a song he didn’t write. That would be ‘Morning Has Broken’, an infidel hymn from 1931.