What Kind of Spirituality Drives this Triple-Platinum Artist?
When the man formerly known as Cat Stevens contacted me, pleading for me to review his new CD, I caved in and said Well, OK. Actually, it was his publicist, but you know how these things go.
I had some reservations about the deal, mostly because of what we all know about Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam, as he is now known) from the evening news. Here’s a free PR tip: After 9/11, making a guest appearance on America’s no-fly list isn’t the best way to rejuvenate a recording career. But this blog’s Christian spirituality theme gives me a stated interest in exploring the nebulous “spiritualities” that challenge, surround, and give heightened meaning to The Real Thing.
Also, “Wild World” wasn’t a shabby track back in the day—and there is always “Morning Has Broken”—which song you may think is an anomaly, given Yusuf’s discography (it is). Then there was the title of Yusuf's album. It pushed me over the edge, since An-Other Cup always sounds like a good idea to me.
Thus, my answer in the affirmative and Yusuf’s big sigh of relief. Going in, I had three hurdles that An Other Cup would have to clear for me to give Mr. Islam a thumbs up.
- If you’re going to pull a Cassius Clay, your subsequent career had better justify it. I’m looking for some strong music.
- Given the spiritual motif of the album, I want some insight, some reflection—not just platitudes.
- This CD is not about coffee. But since I was drawn to the album by the
coffeecerulean-sea-filled mug on the cover, this An Other Cup theme had better pan out. Or should I say mug out?
Music: Guitar-folk with some horn inflection, flamenco tones. Catchy rhythms. Fun, upbeat (with the exception of “Don’t Let Me Be Understood,” which is pure melodrama). Our canary liked it enough to sing along, which I mean as a compliment (Cricket has a good ear). Yusuf’s voice is still strong. I didn’t hear anything that compared to the early Cat Stevens hits, but on the whole, An Other Cup was a good showing musically.
Spirituality: Alas, Yusuf fell off the wagon at this point—or maybe The Tube, since he lives in London. Why? I’m not a Muslim, so this album should have given me plenty of material for interesting disagreement and dialogue. However, one song about Mohammed, in which he is never actually named, is the most explicitly religious track on the album. If Yusuf was a Christian artist, I would describe his spiritual content as “watery.” On “In the End,” Yusuf sings, “You can’t bargain with the truth/ ‘Cause one day you’re gonna die/And good’s going high/And evil’s going down – in the end.” Sounds good, but then, who could disagree with such general comeuppance? Later, Yusuf jives, “I think I see the light/I think I see the light.” And that sounds good as well…too bad.
Cup motif: When he appeared on CBS Sunday Morning in December 2006, Yusuf said, "You know, the cup is there to be filled... with whatever you want to fill it with.” Hmm. None of the songs on the album explain further, or justify Yusuf’s choice to abandon coffee for sparkling water.
My short take: With it’s overt allusions to Yusuf’s new faith, An Other Cup aspires to be an album with a message. It fails—unless “spirituality is good” can be considered profound communication. Musically, the CD is an enjoyable, breezy listen, and while Yusuf’s coiffure has gotten even wilder, his pipes are still tight. Take this one for what it’s worth.