Top positive review
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A trip back to a more simple time and when music was real
on 23 September 2011
Cat Stevens was in a funk.
After the near-disaster of "Numbers," released in late 1975 and only was liked by the most hardcore of Cat fans, he decided to go back to what made him popular in the first place - good, catchy, solid, well-written music that anyone could instantly fall in love with.
The resulting album became his comeback, and propelled him further in the atmosphere than even wanted to be at. He was becoming increasingly more and more fearful of performing in front of crowds, and even one of his songs reflected those very fears.
The album is very simplistic now, even though it probably was the most electronically and integrally-forward developed music for it's time. Cat himself played no less than a dozen singly different types of instruments for the album's production, and along the way was helped by no less than the legendary Chick Corea, who also assisted in playing several types of keyboard himself.
The album's content is the real winner: reminiscing about loves and opportunities lost in the past, worries about everything and himself as he slides towards the future, and along the way walking with eyes filled with wonder and awe at the universe and all it has to offer between those little moments in between.
10 songs adding up to less than 40 minutes of music, but each song has it's own world and meaning, but is also connected by Cat and his sheer artistry in creation. Only one other songwriter/performer can match him in this type of genius, and that's Stevie Wonder(but personally I'd have to put Stevie first here... sorry Cat):
1. "(Remember the Days of the) Old Schoolyard" - remembering a more simple time in our lives, and from the opening crunch on the electric piano, it also takes you back to a more wonderful simple time of the summer of 1977.
2. "Life" - life, love, and everything it is, can be, and can try to be, and you all you have to do is open the door - fabulous organ and synth and guitar parts all melding and swirling together.
3. "Killin' Time" - a harsh criticism of war, or paranoia, or it really just about seeing those people out there in the world simply wasting their lives and their opportunities? It makes Cat (and me) sad, and that's why he mentions he cries, and he doesn't know why...
4. "Kypros" - the first instrumental, a pause to reflect and look around while the music carries you to somewhere much calmer in the mind - it's also a tribute to his Greek Cypriot roots. You can hear a bouzouki (a Greek guitar of sorts) as it dazzles and the music swirls.
5. "Bonfire" - the first real love song on the album, and it's so Cat Stevens - love, longing, and the allusions to his lover as the bonfire, and he don't mind gettin' burned as he jumps back in again and again. It's so 1970's, but it works on this album, and reminds me of a lost Neil Diamond song.
6. "(I Never Wanted) To Be a Star" - this song is the most personal, but traps him in his own words, as he tries to push away from the one thing that put him where he was - comfortable, rich, and able to write songs like this. It may be autobiographical, and it may throw in 1960's song titles of his European hits, like Matthew and Son, I'm Gonna Get Me a Gun, A Bad Night, and I Think I See The Light, but he uses the titles to tell his story and how he had started to become miserable with the whole fame show.
Personally, I think this song is a bit indulgent, kind of how spoiled brats like Britney and Lindsay perfected their "hate" for their fame and then wrote songs about it.
This song for me is the weakest out of all of Cat's songs, but is the most telling, as less than a year after releasing this - and one other quickly made album "Back To Earth," in 1978, to satisfy the record label's contractual needs - he converted to Islam, went into virtual seclusion, and disappeared at the top of his career after a career of over 10 years and for over 20 years did not perform any of his music for all of that time. Wow.
7. "Crazy" - the second of his love songs, and once again is very 1970's, and so technically wonderful, but also sounds so dated, as it's frozen in time forever, surrounded by synths and Wurlitzer organs.
8. "Sweet Jamaica" - even though it's a Cat Stevens song, and is the third love song on the album, it is really about an anonymous Caribbean person (or subject), it always immediately reminds me of the tribute Elton John gave to Jamaica with his own "Island Girl" a few years earlier, and also using skin color as a subject. An odd song choice and really doesn't belong here, at least it didn't for me.
9. "Was Dog a Doughnut?" - this is the second song instrumental on the album, but has got to be one of the best breaks ever created next to "Trans-Siberian Express" by German techno wizards Kraftwerk, and this is the one song by Cat Stevens that is still played in it's entirety on radio stations all over the world. The title is strange, the music is funky and jazzy, and it's a sheer delight to listen to over and over again. Why? I don't know...
10. "Child for a Day" - the last song on the album and definitely definitely the most associated with the 1970's - it was even featured in a movie later that year starring Susan Dey of "the Partridge Family." However, the song reminds me of a Bob Seger tune, as the country light tone (not one synthesizer is present) with lots of bluesy organ takes me to that Seger Detroit sound.
This was the last album that Cat Stevens AS Cat Stevens performed, produced and wrote. His next album almost a year later was as Yusef Islam, and his heart was not in it, and the day it was released his father died.
"Izitso" is a great album, even though it is a bit uneven in places, as it is a 70's album, but after over 30 years, technically and writing-wise, he was still at his best.
I'm still going give it 5 stars because it's one of the best albums of the 1970's, it's Cat Stevens, and the music is a wonderful journey back to a much simpler form when substance ruled over style, and artists could still create pieces of sound like this.
(Thanks for reading, and please check out my other reviews!)