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Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Cat Stevens (Yusuf): The Laughing Apple


1) Blackness Of The Night; 2) See What Love Did To Me; 3) The Laughing Apple; 4) Olive Hill; 5) Grandsons; 6) Mighty Peace; 7) Mary And The Little Lamb; 8) You Can Do (Whatever)!; 9) Northern Wind (Death Of Billy The Kid); 10) Don't Blame Them; 11) I'm So Sleepy.

At this rate, I guess, if Cat-Yusuf lives to be a hundred, his last albums will consist exclusively of re-recordings of his old catalog. The Laughing Apple not only takes its title from one of the songs on New Masters, but it actually presents no less than four songs off that record in new arrangements. We do remember that Cat never really appreciated Mike Hurst's production of his first two albums, and took the first chance he could to get himself rid of the 1967 baroque posh­ness of the arrangements; so this move may at once represent an understandable pull of nostalgia for one's youth and a desire to set things right, if at all possible.

The problem is, New Masters was not a great album by itself, and the arrangements were not that bad — listening to the new versions back-to-back with the old ones mainly just reminds me of how much Cat-Yusuf's voice has aged after all, although, to be fair, on ʽNorthern Windʼ he goes down and deep quite intentionally, so that the song's atmosphere could be changed from youthful romanticism to experienced wisdom. In another case — that of the title track — he replaces the old Morricone-style orches­tral arrangement with a long-awaited mid-Eastern arrangement, and now the old parable may be taken for a piece of Sufi wisdom. But ʽBlackness Of The Nightʼ is basically just the old song without strings, so if the idea of a small chunk of New Masters Naked actively appeals to you... well, here you go.

I regard it as more of a symbolic gesture — the old man coming full circle and offering an elderly take on the sentiments of his youth — and, naturally, am more interested in whether he still has anything new left to say. Well... not really. In a way, this is a retread from the darkness and tension of Tell 'Em I'm Gone, back to the placated comfort zone of Roadsinger: the first origi­nal song, ʽSee What Love Did To Meʼ, is a soft country-rocker where we learn that the protago­nist used to be "a blindfolded bumblebee", and "now I see what God did for me / He made me see life flowery", from which we can conclude that the protagonist is still a bumblebee, but no longer blindfolded and capable of clearly seeing everything he might be sucking on... oh, hang on, we got sort of sidetracked here, wrong direction.

Back on target: almost everything else is a bunch of pleasant folk and country ballads, very nice in terms of texture and atmosphere, but gliding past you on wings of butter and cream, so softly and smoothly that there is barely anything specific to catch your attention. At this point, the lyrics are consistently more interesting than the music: ʽGrandsonsʼ, for instance, states that "I've got a thing about seeing my grandson grow old", with a strange and hardly predictable desire to stay on and witness the wonders of technological progress ("I just can't wait to see that city on the moon", actually a fairly reasonable sentiment for 1967 but hardly for 2017), while its acoustic melody does not come across as memorable. ʽMary And The Little Lambʼ is musically just that, but lyrically, Yusuf adds an extra twist to the story to tighten the bonds between Mary and the lamb even tighter — too tight, one might say if one took the words "they'll be loving a long long time from now" too literally, but... hang on, wrong direction again.

Anyway, I think it is best to just take The Laughing Apple as a children's album — you know, like one of those that he'd done for the kids in order to educate them about the ways of the Pro­phet, but more musical and without any specific religious indoctrination this time. I can easily imagine a toddler cuddling up to its soft, simple charms, and eventually drifting to sleep as the record appropriately concludes with a re-recording of ʽI'm So Sleepyʼ. Perhaps that was precisely the goal — to make a simple, unassuming, childish album; peaceful, loving, and cozy. Sometimes such records might feature great songwriting, too, but Cat-Yusuf is no longer interested in great songwriting, because striving for greatness would prevent him from carrying out his debt of humi­lity. Unfortunately, this means that The Laughing Apple cannot get any active endorsement from me; but as a mild spiritual sedative, it just might work.


  1. Don't get this motivation on this. I actually think New Masters was a great album, but that's my taste, and the orchestration does the songs more justice.

    Couldn't listen to the end of these songs because they just sounded so slow and morose. I suspect that if he had promoted the songs on New Masters at the time and created more poppy versions of later songs, he would have been a much bigger star.

    But it's just conjecture.

  2. "Grandsons" is a re-working of a 1970 song I've Got A Thing About Seeing My Grandson Grow Old which was first released on his boxset about 15 years ago. You need to review the boxset previoulsy unrealesed tracks for completness sake!