Review: Penny Valentine, Sounds Aug 1971

SINGER, MUSICIAN and songwriter. As such, in the opinion of many, Cat Stevens is one of the most brilliant and worthwhile talents to have emerged on the music scene in Britain in recent years.

Teaser And The Firecat follows the first two albums, Mona Bone Jakon and Tea For The Tillerman, not as just another step in the passage of time but as evidence of the inexorable linking of a man’s life with his work. Mona Bone Jakon told the story of his early rise to success, the effects of success, his illness and then the start of his comeback. Tea For The Tillerman was a less moribund collection, a series of tracks that reflected Stevens’ state of mind, his opinions and his life as it had become.

The latest album, Teaser And The Firecat, takes this relationship between the man and his life one more step forward. Teaser is a happy album, reflecting the happiness of an artist who has found a truth in his work. Cat Stevens was born 23 years ago, the son of a Greek father and Swedish mother. A boy who spent most of his life in the heart of a city where there are very few places a kid may play, very few nights not filled with the rumble of long distance lorries, with someone, somewhere working. There are no streams to splash in around New Oxford Street. No trees to watch swaying against the wind. No silence. No dark. No clean day. Yet from all this emerges not only a talent affected by the childhood environment, but a talent which was to grow so strong it could express all these missing elements in a few lines of lyric as he does on a song from Teaser And The Firecat:

Morning has broken/Like the first morning/Blackbird has spoken/Like the first bird? Praise for the singing/Praise for the morning/Sweet the rains new fall/Sunlight from heaven/Like the first dewfall/On the first grass

– a song of such purity that it could only have been sung by a city boy who discovered another country than the city and became dizzy with its brilliance.

Stevens’ work has always had two underlying qualities which have, over the past year, become even more marked. The first is his lyricism – a quality which has always set him apart from other British songwriters. It perceived and told – right from his early records – in a direct, naively and uncomplicated way.

The second quality was his work as a musician. His early career was often hampered by overproduction and it wasn’t until 1968, when he contracted tuberculosis and spent two years recovering from an illness that nearly killed him, that he realised that his original demos, with their lack of orchestration, were better than the heavy studio singles and albums. So, when he returned to the studios in 1970 to cut Mona, he knew exactly the sound he wanted and he and producer, Paul Samwell-Smith, so much an integral part of the Stevens “team”, captured it perfectly. The music is pure, uncluttered, without trimmings, centred round haunting European rhythms and coming across with an honesty that is both startling and razor sharp. There is nothing blurred about Cat Stevens’ viewpoint of himself and there is equally nothing blurred in the way he projects that sensitivity to a listener.

Today, Cat Stevens has, if anything, made that lyrical simplicity and musical purity even more telling. On Teaser And The Firecat it becomes one complete entity. The result is an album combining precision and perfect melody. Call Teaser And The Firecat an “up” album.