An experience as you would expect from the former Cat Stevens.
Michael Quinn 2009
Three years after he broke his near three-decades-long silence, the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens returns with his second album since converting to the Islamic religion in 1977 and adopting a new name, Yusuf Islam.
Roadsinger sidesteps the surprising pop-savvy orientations of 2006’s comeback, An Other Cup, to pick up, says Yusuf, ‘where the Cat Stevens the public knows left off’. Certainly, the approach is recognisably the same lo-fi, low-tempo and, in its now curiously manicured way, low-key lyrical one you would expect of Cat Stevens. That once familiarly soft, downy, coffee-caramel voice survives, too, albeit noticeably heavier, darker and ingrained with age.
But where Cat Stevens’ lyrics were invitations to dream and to be, Yusuf’s are laced with metaphorical exhortations to believe and obligations to become. Only the sleepy ‘Dream On’, with its saxophone accompaniment swaying like a cosseting summer night’s breeze, comes close to the sentiment of past glories here, and even then does so with an uncomfortably awkward sense of letting-go.
Prominent throughout is Yusuf’s faith, with Welcome Home, World of Darkness, All Kinds of Roses and virtually every other song taking on an obvious autobiographical tone that some may find a touch insistently intrusive. The title track is an especially saccharine-coated eulogy about finding ‘the path to Heaven through the desert sand’, while ‘This Glass World’ is a Tom Petty-out-of-mid-period-Elvis Costello sermon masquerading as a lament.
The Cat Stevens of old pops up just once, and gloriously so, in the tinny, bar-room piano introduction of To Be What You Must, but it’s Yusuf who delivers the album’s stand-out track: the ravishingly beautiful instrumental miniature, ‘Shamsia’, a touching tribute to a young Afghan girl who defied a Taliban blinding to continue attending school.
Produced by Yusuf with the assistance of Martha Wainwright and James Morrison collaborator, Martin Terefe, and with contributions from Morrison, Michelle Branch and Holly Williams, Roadsinger may not quite click neatly into place as intended, but it remains as mellow and meditative an experience as you would expect from the former Cat Stevens.