Album Reviews

Yusuf/Cat Stevens – King Of A Land

(BMG/Dark Horse) UK release date: 16 June 2023

About to turn 75, Stevens still sounds like he does in his heyday, with a voice that is both as soothing and powerful as it was in the ’70s. The material helps, of course

Yusuf/Cat Stevens - King Of A Land Considering Yusuf aka Cat Stevens once took a 28 year break from recording music, it’s impressive to see how much he still impinges on public consciousness. Boyzone‘s cover of Father And Son is regarded by some as their best single, while his version of Morning Has Broken was for those of us of a certain age a staple of school assemblies. And Ricky Gervais, of course, introduced him to a whole new audience by using Tea For The Tillerman as the theme song to his TV show Extras.

Now using a combined alias of Yusuf/Cat Stevens, King Of A Land is his sixth solo release since he returned to music in 2006. Despite the fact he’s about to turn 75, Stevens still sounds like he does in his heyday – that voice is both as soothing and powerful as it was in the ’70s. The material helps of course: most of King of A Land consists of contemplative ballads with a spiritual bent, which is, of course, the kind of material he’s made his name with.

So the opening Train On A Hill is a lush reintroduction to the world of Yusuf/Cat Stevens, full of strings and orchestrations to bring a glow to the soul, while the title track nods towards Stevens’ own past in slightly resembling Moonshadow. It’s only when the guitars of Pagan Run kick in, sounding for all the world like a retread of Warren Zevon‘s Lawyers, Guns And Money that the first big surprise of the record kicks in.

Perhaps inevitably, there’s a strong spiritual bent to most of the lyrics. Son of Mary, introduced by a flute solo, is all about Jesus Christ, while the finger-picked acoustics of He Is True is the most straightforward religious song contained on the album. Inevitably, these will appeal most to those who share such belief, but to his credit Stevens never becomes preachy or pious.

Surprisingly for someone primarily known as an acoustic singer-songwriter, it’s the full band efforts that stand out most. All Nights All Days is almost country rock, and boasts some incisive, political lyrics (“Those politicians keep telling lies… they steal hope from the people’s hearts”), while Highness is an enormous gospel-imbued ballad which becomes steadily more stirring as it continues.

This is an album that takes its time to work its way into your brain. There aren’t really too many memorable hooks, and sometimes it threatens to become a bit too twee for its own good, as on Things, which sits in the middle of the record and slows down the album’s momentum. Yet every so often, the power of Stevens’ songwriting reveals itself to devastating effect: The Boy Who Knew How To Climb Walls is a compelling anti-war song, and the tale of loss and heartbreak is all too relevant today than it was in Stevens’ heyday.

While it’s sometimes a bit too unassuming for its own good, King Of A Land does well to remind the world of just what a legendary songwriter Yusuf/Cat Stevens is.

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More on Yusuf
Yusuf/Cat Stevens – King Of A Land
Yusuf – Roadsinger (To Warm You Through The Night)
Yusuf – An Other Cup