Yusuf Islam is a man preoccupied. Since his return from the music wilderness three years ago it seems to have grown progressively on his conscience that things are very different with the world from when he went away.
There were hints of this on An Other Cup, but Roadsinger tackles the issues straight on. World Of Darkness, with its observation that “no-one cares for anyone else, in a world where the sun don’t shine”, is a poignant, yet slightly uncomfortable listen. Or The Rain, where Islam ruminates some more. “I wonder where all the good weather’s gone,” he ponders. “Things are looking bad, everyone is looking so sad.”
There’s more. On the wearisome title track Islam tells of the Roadsinger that came to town with his “long cape and hat”. “Where do you go,” he sings, “when the world turns dark, when the light of truth is turned out, and the roads are blocked”. Though gently sung, a dissatisfaction is clear in his resigned voice, and you can tell it’s much more than a complaint about the water repair works in Shaftesbury Avenue where he grew up.
Such world weariness would be the early death of this album, were it not for some more uplifting counterparts. Boots And Sand winds things up with a rousing chorus, while All Kinds Of Roses is a thinly disguised hymn to cultural diversity. Meanwhile To Be What You Must use a children’s choir to push home its not-so-subtle message, a sweetly sounding affirmation that did unfortunately conjure fleeting visions of recent advertising horrors.
Largely self-produced, Roadsinger does nonetheless turn to Martin Terefe for some of its finishing touches. This may explain some nice touches of orchestrations, such as the plaintive saxophone in Dream On, or the soft trombone at the end of Everytime I Dream, but it may also explain the occasional over indulgence of the string section. In The Rain, which starts promisingly as Islam proclaims “When I hold your hand, I could run a zillion miles with you” over a rotating loop, is swamped as the strings arrive and swap the tender side for more radio-friendly swooning.
When you think of Islam’s best music, you think of his talent for direct communication, often with just a guitar to help him out – and those are the moments where Roadsinger comes alive. He may be disenchanted with the state of the world as he finds it, but, as demonstrated so vividly in Welcome Home, Yusuf has plenty of comfort still to offer in it.