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Teaser and the Firecat (Deluxe Edition)

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Album Review

Even as a serious-minded singer/songwriter, Cat Stevens never stopped being a pop singer at heart, and with Teaser and the Firecat he reconciled his philosophical interests with his pop instincts. Basically, Teaser's songs came in two modes: gentle ballads that usually found Stevens and second guitarist Alun Davies playing delicate lines over sensitive love lyrics, and uptempo numbers on which the guitarists strummed away and thundering drums played in stop-start rhythms. There were also more exotic styles, such as the Greek-styled "Rubylove" with its twin bouzoukis and a verse sung in Greek, and "Tuesday's Dead," with its Caribbean feel. Stevens seemed to have worked out some of his big questions, to the point of wanting to proselytize on songs like "Changes IV" and "Peace Train," both stirring tunes in which he urged social and spiritual improvement. Meanwhile, his love songs had become simpler and more plaintive. And while there had always been a charming, childlike quality to some of his lyrics, there were songs here that worked as nursery rhymes, and these were among the album's most memorable tracks and its biggest hits: "Moonshadow" and "Morning Has Broken," the latter adapted from a hymn. The overall result was an album that was musically more interesting than ever, but lyrically dumbed-down. Stevens continued to look for satisfaction in romance, despite its disappointment, but he found more fulfillment in a still-unspecified religious pursuit that he was ready to tout to others. And they were at least nominally ready to listen: the album produced three hit singles and just missed topping the charts. Tea for the Tillerman may have been the more impressive effort, but Teaser and the Firecat was the Cat Stevens album that gave more surface pleasure to more people, which in pop music is the name of the game. [In 2008, Teaser and the Firecat appeared in a beautifully remastered edition containing a bonus disc with 11 tracks. The double digipack is illustrated with the original album artwork including two beautiful paintings Stevens did for the inner sleeve. The booklet contains an introductory liner essay by Yusuf Islam, track by track notes from producer Paul Samwell-Smith, and a fine reminiscence by Islam's longtime guitarist Alun Davies. Disc two opens with a live version of "Moonshadow" taken from a performance at the Troubadour in 1971. It's just Stevens and Davies; it gets to the beautiful mystery in the tune and is perhaps superior to the studio version. This is followed by five straight excellent sounding demos of album tracks recorded in February, 1971: "Rubylove," "If I Laugh," "Changes," and a deeply vulnerable "How Can I Tell You" that undresses the album's rather glossy arrangement. The final demo is for "Morning Has Broken." This solo acoustic version (the first recorded one) is slightly different; it's transposed into a different key, Stevens seems a bit unsure of the lyrics (he didn't write them), but they are more convincing. It feels more like the hymn it was designed to be than a pop song. Two songs from a pair of Royal Albert Hall performances are included: a completely overblown "Bitterblue" from 1972, and a stellar drums-and-hums reading of "Peace Train" from 2003 which resembles the version on his 2006 album, The Other Cup. This version's timelessness is revealed in the same way that Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready" is. The set ends with "The Wind" from the Yusuf's Cafe Session DVD, recorded with Davies. Here too, the song's poignancy is ever present, even if the performance is a little ragged. This deluxe edition is worth the extra investment.] ~ William Ruhlmann & Thom Jurek, Rovi


Born: 21 July 1948 in London, England

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Cat Stevens, born Steven Demetre Georgiou, was the son of a Swedish mother and a Greek father who ran a restaurant in London. He became interested in folk music and rock & roll in his teens while attending Hammersmith College and in 1965 began performing under the name Steve Adams. Mike Hurst, a former member of the folk-pop group the Springfields, who had become a record producer, heard him and took him into a recording studio to cut his composition "I Love My Dog." This demo caused Decca Records...
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Teaser and the Firecat (Deluxe Edition), Cat Stevens
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