Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Cat Stevens 5: Catch Bull At Four

It’s odd to use the term “one-two punch” for albums as gentle as Tea For The Tillerman and Teaser And The Firecat, but commercially, that’s what they were. And with a little more cash coming in, Cat Stevens could spend more time in the studio recording bigger music (plus getting custom labels for his next record). Catch Bull At Four was a hit, of course, but it doesn’t have the brilliant consistency of that one-two punch.
Where the last few albums began with an acoustic guitar, a strident piano opens “Sitting”, another wonderful song about searching, propelled by drums and an electric mandolin. “Boy With A Moon & Star On His Head” is a cross between a fable and a folk song, going a long way toward a simple message about the reward in responsibility. “Angelsea” gets pretty repetitive after a while, the same three chords, wordless chanting and rumbling synth effects. But “Silent Sunlight” is a pretty hymn, and “Can’t Keep It In” a fairly catchy pop song, albeit with some challenging meter changes.
Side two is a more ambitious, and ultimately denser. “18th Avenue”, subtitled “Kansas City Nightmare” in the lyrics, seems to detail a less-than-pleasant experience passing through the town of the same name, and could the house of “Freezing Steel” with its cold lamb and potatoes be an airline joke? “O Caritas” pits lyrics in Latin against a bouzouki-heavy arrangement, diluting the message. “Sweet Scarlet”, sung solo at the piano, is said to be about Carly Simon, and can you blame, but rather than end the album that quietly, “Ruins” follows a welcome strum until the drums illustrate the tension of visiting a place left behind.
Taken on its own, Catch Bull At Four is good, but not great. He would be increasingly uncomfortable with the life he’d taken on, but not so much that he refused to be photographed with a shirt open to the navel.

Cat Stevens Catch Bull At Four (1972)—3

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