25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Peak of Cat Stevens... a forgotten gem from 1972.,
This review is from: Teaser and the Firecat (Audio CD)
After a slew of personal problems, a false start as a 60's pop pin-up, and a near death experience, Cat Stevens began to find his song-writing feet with the wonderfully downbeat and introvert mini-masterpiece, Mona Bone Jakon. The songs were stripped down, emotional and delivered in a voice that would suggest some sort of re-birth... artistic or otherwise. This burgeoning skill for intuitive folk/pop would further progress with his follow up LP, the legendary Tea for the Tillerman, before finally reaching something of a peak with the album in question. Like Tillerman, Teaser and the Firecat finds Stevens once again in a sombre and reflective mood, as he lays down a series of songs that deal with love, loss, inner-peace and heartbreak.
As a result, Teaser takes on two different tones; there's the gentle and intimate songs in which Stevens sings of lost love and heartache, and then there's the songs that are more exuberant in style, mixing different world influences into the more characteristic Cat Stevens sound. Songs like The Wind, If I Laugh, How Can I Tell You, Morning Has Broken and Moonshadow belong to the first wave... with Stevens pouring his heartache and woe into songs with more minimal arrangements, often built around a gentle acoustic guitar, complimented by a dash of Rick Wakeman's understated piano or keyboards. The other songs, particularly Rubylove, Changes IV, Tuesday's Dead and the closing song, Peace Train, have a more band orientated sound that brings together the drums and bass, as well as instruments like the congas and bouzoukia, further complimented by some choral backing-vocals, handclaps and a hint of strings.
The range of different instrumental flourishes and creative music ideas here is vast and continually changing; from the sub-Dylan folk of opening track the Wind, to gentle ballads like How Can I tell You... there are the world-music touches as well, such as on the Greek themed rumination, Rubylove. This helps to build a mood that is both relaxing and ethereal... and if you were to perhaps read too much into the music, you could say that the overall mix of styles, ideas and lyrical subject matter suggest some far off time or other world in which love, peace and internal devotion win out over the feelings of longing and misery. This sense of innocence cut loose within the abyss of modern living is also reflected in Stevens' own illustrated cover art... the truest testament to the nocturnal sadness and childlike wonderment mirrored by the music.
The Wind establishes a tone for the album right away, with Stevens and guitarist Alun Davies indulging in a little dual finger-picking... creating a lovely little melody that encapsulated the sense innocence reflected in the lyrics. As a piece of music, it's as great as anything released by Leonard Cohen during his celebrated early period... only with lyrics that are more uplifting and less revelatory in the depiction of low-rent sleaze. The overall sentiment of the song is quite lovely, with Stevens intoning "I listen to my words, but they fall far bellow, I let my music take me where my heart wants to go... I swam upon the devil's lake, but never, never, never, never... I'll never make the same mistake, no never, n-ever, never!!", as the guitars gently pick away in the background.
It's really the kind of pop-music that doesn't exist any more... thoughtful and uplifting. Music today is all about aggression and making money; it's no wonder half the world is on ASBO's and the like!! Besides The Wind, other highlights for me include the two reflective songs that deal with unrequited love. The first, If I Laugh features, again, a gentle guitar melody, with a hint of backing instrumentation to give it a bit of weight. The lyrics are heartbreaking, with Cat sorrowfully singing "If I laugh, just a little bit, maybe I can forget the chance that I didn't have, to know you..." before going on to further the story of this young man consumed by thoughts of a love he'll never know. The same theme is continued in more detail on the lengthier, though no less beautiful, How I Can I Tell You.
This is one of my very favourite Stevens songs, standing alongside The Wind, Don't Be Shy, Father and Son and If You Want To Sing Out..., with the minimal instrumentation giving way to some heartbreaking lyrics that encapsulate the feelings of unrequited love better than any other song I can think of ("wherever I am girl, I'm always walking with you, I'm always walking with you, but I look and you're not there... whoever I'm with I'm always, always talking to you, I'm always talking to you, and I'm sad that you can't hear... it always ends up to one thing honey, when I look and you're not there"). Morning Has Broken and Moonshadow are both classics, if a little over-familiar form years of radio play, whilst Tuesday's Dead, Bitterblue and Peace Train offer the more up-tempo side of Stevens' character to help raise the spirits after the soul-searching reflection of some of the songs on what would have been the original LP's side one.
Teaser and the Firecat is a great album... as many have said elsewhere, it's perhaps Stevens's best studio album, continuing the themes and musical ideas he had developed previously on fine albums like Mona Bone Jakon and Tea For the Tillerman, both of which are essential if you appreciate the music found here.