Drowned in Sound: Yusuf (Cat Stevens): "An Other Cup"

Drowned in Sound
Yusuf (Cat Stevens): "An Other Cup"
by Kodi McKinney, DJ at U92
kodimckinney@gmail.com

It's been a long time coming, but the man formerly known as Cat Stevens has returned to the world of pop music. Now known by his Islamic moniker Yusuf, the former megastar has released An Other Cup, a new album named in reference to his 1970 classic Tea for the Tillerman. Unfortunately, Yusuf will be hard-pressed to recapture that success.
The greatest flaw of An Other Cup is apparent right from the start. Yusuf has been out of the popular music business since releasing Back to Earth in 1978. His music has not progressed that far from the Seventies, which makes most of this album sound dated. Some songs sound like you might be listening to an old Carpenters record that just happens to have Cat Stevens on vocals. Generally sparse singer-songwriter arrangements are backed up with strings early on, and not much of this sounds particularly challenging or memorable to a listener. It is anything but a true comeback album, and the odds of Yusuf earning new fans with An Other Cup are slim.
The other big problem An Other Cup has is that Yusuf's expected musical progression actually hurts more than it helps. His faith is now part of his lyric writing, which makes lead single "Heaven/Where True Love Goes" harder to get into than it should be. Yusuf realizes an opportunity there for dual meanings between earthly and holy love, but the end product is confusing. There's also a cringe-worthy moment in "When Butterflies Leave," a short spoken-word interlude with apparent New Age influences. To add insult to injury, "Whispers from a Spiritual Garden" is similar except extended to the two-minute mark and with even more hokey instrumentation.
However, this album is not quite an artistic failure. "Heaven/Where True Love Goes" may be lyrically puzzling, but it's still a great song with solid singing and ear-catching acoustic guitar lines. There's also an overwhelming feeling of peace that comes from listening to An Other Cup, likely a reflection of Yusuf's faith. This is conveyed mainly through his vocals, which don't have the greatest range but are very smooth and distinctive. Yusuf has an unusually soothing voice, and it's easy to see why he was so popular at his peak.
Honestly, it seems that Yusuf's greatest enemy in this would-be comeback is himself. Maybe he's trying too hard to stay within Islam-approved guidelines on his new material, because his cover of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" is the most musically daring track of all. The rest of An Other Cup is as breezy and peaceful as a spring zephyr, but also just as inconsequential. Little of it has any gravity; you know you have some big problems when an album's best song (by far) is a cover. Yusuf might be able to make another record to match his pre-conversion work as Cat Stevens someday, but it would be ill-advised to hold your breath.
Rating: 2 out of 5