Sound: The man formerly known as Cat Stevens has returned with a sound that harkens back to his heyday back in the 1970s. When Stevens changed his name to Yusuf Islam and converted to the Islamic faith, it seemed like that might be the last the public would ever hear of recordings like Wild World and Peace Train. But Yusuf is now back with the full-length album An Other Cup, which although does have heavy religious undertones, marks a fantastic return to the pop genre.
An Other Cup consists of what you might expect to hear from an old school Cat Stevens' record, but it also now adds in a lot of international touches as well. The first track Midday (Avoid City After Dark) is written very much in the vein of Peace Train, with it's up-beat and acoustic driven melody. In fact, the first half of the CD does seem like it would still fit perfectly on any old Stevens LP. Yusuf does incorporate multiple musicians to help out on his compositions to make the songs a bit more than your run-of-the-mill acoustic tracks. Unfortunately, he also fails to add specific credits to each musician on his CD, so it's hard to tell the number of instruments that are heard on An Other Cup.
Probably the most intriguing portion of the record is during the song Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood. The song, written by jazz songstress Nina Simone and covered most notably by The Animals, is made completely Yusuf's own on the CD. With a synthesized intro that would fit perfectly in any Madonna track -- but kept at a slow, dramatic tempo -- transforms the well-known tune into a dark, reflective song. You can hear honest emotion coming out of every line, and although Don't Let Me Be Understood was written by another person, it feels like Yusuf is making a heartfelt plea to the public.
There is most definitely a spiritual feel to many of the tracks. When Butterflies Leave and Whispers From A Spiritual Garden are both spoken-word tracks, and the latter is taken directly from a writing by the Persian philosopher and poet Rumi. Whispers actually features the most beautiful backing music of any track, drawing upon an East-Asian influence, but some might not like the religious that is brought into it. // 9
Lyrics: Yusuf's writing does feel like he is being open and honest all along the way. Considering that he has had to deal with a wide array of reactions to his converting to Islam, hearing his lyrics truly gives you a glimpse of what goes on his mind.
I Think I See The Light is a revealing song that may possibly be his thoughts on how his Islamic faith changed his view of the world. He sings, I used to trust nobody, trusting even less their words; Until I found somebody, there was no one I preferred; My heart was made of stone, my eyes saw only misty grey; Until you came into my life. He never comes outright and says that religion or spirituality is the basis for the song, but his other tunes seem to point to this.
While the music does keep to the Cat Stevens of old, his lyrics do reflect the Yusuf side of the equation. The Beloved seems to be about the prophet Mohammad and features poetic-like stanzas. He sings, His wisdom flowed from Heaven's Book; Just like threaded pearls, just like threaded pearls; He left his self to flee to God; and God sent him back to us. The fact that he has the courage to relay his religious beliefs deserves credit, even if it may turn off some of his fans. // 9
Overall Impression: While Yusuf Islam's latest record may be a bit too heavy on the religious aspect, it is still effectively written and deserves a listen. Some people might be just curious to hear how much he's changed since he threw away the title of Cat Stevens, and those individuals are likely to find that the core talent didn't leave with the name.
The standout tracks actually are the most unlike his hits from the '70s, but the other songs on the CD will still satisfy his steadfast fans. The lyrical content is honest, but it never feels overly preachy and that was a wise move on Yusuf's part. Underneath it all, An Other Cup is musically a success in terms of Yusuf's return to the pop world. // 9