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Posted December 16, 2006 by Mike Mineo in Features
 
 

Stephen Georgiou -> Cat Stevens -> Yusuf Islam

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It’s unfortunate how Cat Stevens’ religious views often cloud his musical past to the general media. The controversy surrounding his religious conversion and name change from Stephen Georgiou to Yusuf Islam has been overblown and overanalyzed to the point where a disturbing number of radio stations have refused to play his material based on his “odd disposition” alone. Honestly, I could care less. He never murdered anyone or hit a child, rather he has given most of his profits towards charitable causes that benefit poor children (along with forming his own charity, Small Kindness) and organizations that promote the awareness of peace. Sure, his controversial statements surrounding Salman Rushdie may have been a bit unneccessary, but go ahead and try to find a prominently accomplished musician without political views. The only thing that matters to me is that he released a string of albums in the early 1970s that feature some of the best songwriting of the era. With his distinct vocal style and lyrical emotion, he molded influential albums such as Tea for the Tillerman and Teaser and the Firecat. After releasing Back to Earth in 1978, Yusuf put his musical career on hold in its prime to focus on his religion and family. After releasing a handful of traditional Islam albums, Yusuf is releasing his first album of new material in twenty-eight years.

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An Other Cup picks up where his Cat Stevens persona left off. His vocals still fit perfectly for his fabled lyrical delivery. Though ‘Heaven/Where True Love Goes’ is the only track on the album that I find to be as touching as his classics, his comeback is quite solid and is one of the pleasing surprises of 2006. ‘Heaven/Where True Love Goes’ follows up on Yusuf’s usually romantic takes of the past. Unlike great emotional ballads of the past such as ‘Sad Lisa’ and ‘How Can I Tell You’, a new sense of optimism is more present throughout An Other Cup than most of his previous releases. “The moment you walked inside my door, I knew that I need not look no more” he sings on ‘Heaven/Where True Love Goes’, “I’ve seen many other souls before, ah but heaven must have programmed you”. I doubt he would have used the word “programmed” in the 70s, but fortunately, that is only aspect of the technological era that Yusuf has involved in his music. His sound is still very organic and heartfelt, as can be seen on his previous classics such as ‘Father and Son’ and ‘Wild World’. ‘Midday (Avoid City After Dark)’ is another enjoyable track on the album, using a simple but effective rhythmic formula over an array of brass instruments and percussion shuffles. The brass acts as the true chorus, as Stevens tells a simple tale of childhood innocence, portraying night as the vile and often times unavoidable traits of society. Many people have complained that some songs on An Other Cup seem to be too focused on being a lecture than an actual song, such as ‘In The End’, which contains a nicely written piano arrangement. While Yusuf personally believes that religion has often given him a better view on life, the tracks avoid straightforward religious content, his share of societal lessons are effectively similar to his earlier days. While the album has a few duds, the key tracks make it an enjoyable effort that shows the musical passion is still there.

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Yusuf – Heaven/Where True Love Goes

[audio:https://obscuresound.com/mp3/yusuf-hea.mp3]

Yusuf – Midday (Avoid City After Dark)

[audio:https://obscuresound.com/mp3/yusuf-mid.mp3]

Yusuf – In The End

[audio:https://obscuresound.com/mp3/yusuf-int.mp3]

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Cat Stevens – How Can I Tell You

[audio:https://obscuresound.com/mp3/.mp3]

Cat Stevens – Sad Lisa

[audio:https://obscuresound.com/mp3/cstevens-sad.mp3]

Cat Stevens – Father and Son

[audio:https://obscuresound.com/mp3/cstevens-fat.mp3]

Cat Stevens – Wild World

[audio:https://obscuresound.com/mp3/cstevens-wil.mp3]

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Mike Mineo

 
I'm the founder/editor of Obscure Sound, which was formed in 2006. Previously, I wrote for PopMatters and Stylus Magazine. Send your music to [email protected].