Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 July 2019

Album review: The Laughing Apple finds Yusuf Islam blending the past and present

The new album finds the folk music legend reinterpreting some of his older material

                  <p>This cover image released by Cat-O-Log Records shows "The Laughing Apple," a release by Cat Stevens. (Cat-O-Log Records via AP)</p>
This cover image released by Cat-O-Log Records shows "The Laughing Apple," a release by Cat Stevens. (Cat-O-Log Records via AP)

The Laughing Apple is something of a recording curiosity, mixing new material from Yusuf Islam with reimagined versions of his earlier work as Cat Stevens. “Many of my earlier recordings were overcooked,” the artist has said, and certainly this new release is an album of paired-down arrangements and crisp, uncluttered productions.

Many people will no doubt be most intrigued by the naming convention attached to the album. Having made his name in the late 1960s and early 70s as Cat Stevens, the artist turned his back on popular music in 1978 after the release of Back to Earth and his well-publicised conversion to Islam. It would be almost 30 years until he returned to releasing mainstream music with his 2006 album An Other Cup, which he recorded as Yusuf. Two further albums followed in 2009 and 2014, and both were released under the same name. The Laughing Apple nods more firmly to his storied past and is credited to Yusuf/Cat Stevens. It is, effectively, the first Cat Stevens album in nearly four decades. In keeping with the general historical feeling at work, the album is released by Cat-O-Log Records via Decca, the label that put his first two albums out in the Sixties.

It is a sweet if mildly soporific release. Through the course of its 11 songs it’s easy to immerse yourself in his beautiful word play, skilfully structured songs and sharp vocal performances and be gently lulled into a serene state. That probably underplays what is, at times, a wonderful album. The opening Blackness of the Night, originally released

in 1967, is reimagined as a far less bombastic affair in 2017 and it is all the better for that reworking. Other reborn old favourites include Northern Wind and the album’s title track. Mary and the Little Lamb is a cute, infectious mid-album lullaby, while Don’t Blame Them, is a playful and soft lament. All told, The Laughing Apple is, undoubtedly, a welcome return by the sometime Dubai resident.

Updated: September 28, 2017 11:32 AM