Tuesday, 21 June 2016

"Foreigner" by CAT STEVENS (2000 Universal CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Love Must’ve Made You On A Sunday..."

In truth - by the summer of 1973 - Cat Stevens was probably losing his audience. Released in July of that strange year for Rock music - "Foreigner” managed a No. 3 placing in the UK and US charts despite some critical reviews about its move away from simple three-minute songs. And 1974's occasionally musical mishmash "Buddah And The Chocolate Box" didn't help matters either. With a get-some-money-in-quick "Greatest Hits" in July 1975 - from thereon in - 1977"s "Izitso" saw him drop even further down the LP charts (No. 18) and 1979's "Back To Earth" didn't bother the UK Top 100 at all.

In fact for some fans his classic run of albums on the mighty Island Records ends with September 1972's "Catch Bull At Four". But I'd argue that the overlooked and now forgotten "Foreigner" LP is a bit of an unsung masterpiece - especially that fabulous 8-part "Foreigner Suite" occupying the whole of Side 1. And this little beauty of a CD Remaster from way back in the summer of 2000 only hammers that home. Here are the cat-like details...

UK released August 2000 - "Foreigner" by CAT STEVENS on Universal/Island IMCD 272 (Barcode 731454688727) is a straightforward CD Remaster of the 5-track 1973 LP and plays out as follows (36:07 minutes):

1. Foreigner Suite [Side 1]
2. The Hurt [Side 2]
3. How Many Times
4. Later
5. 100 I Dream
Tracks 1 to 5 are his 7th studio album "Foreigner" - released July 1973 in the UK on Island ILPS 9240 and in the USA on A&M Records SP-4391. Produced by CAT STEVENS (all songs by CS also) - it peaked at No.3 on both the US and UK LP charts.

CAT STEVENS – Piano, Electric Piano, Pianos III, Organ, ARP Synth, R.M.I. Electric Piano, Acoustic & Synthesized Guitars, Clavinet, Bass and all Lead Vocals
HERBIE FLOWERS - Bass (only on "How Many Times")
BERNARD PURDIE – Drums (All Tracks except for GERRY CONWAY on Parts 2 and 4 of "Foreigner Suite")

JEAN ROUSSEL - Brass and String Arrangements (Electric Piano on Parts 6 and 8 of "Foreigner Suite")
PATTI AUSTIN, BARBARA MASSEY and TASHA THOMAS – Backing Vocals on Tracks 1, 2 and 4

The 12-page booklet reproduces the lyrics that were on the hard card insert that came with original vinyl LPs (front cover on the first page, back cover on the last) and that black and white painting he did of a Polar Bear. But some UK copies came with a 'Postcard' and of course that beautiful embossed sleeve that was so hard to keep clean - you don't get either. BILL LEVENSON supervised the reissue while TED JENSEN did the Remaster from original two-track analogue master tapes at Sterling Sound in New York. This CD sounds gorgeous - all the instruments clear, strong and present in your speakers. If anything - it seems to have brought the musicianship out more. A top job done...

"...There are no words...I can use...because the meaning still leaves for you to choose..." opens the 18:21 minutes of the 8-part "Foreigner Suite". Beautifully musical - the moods dip and sway - fast to slow - the production so damn good. You can hear Bernard Purdie's expert drumming, Phil Upchurch flicking those guitar strings - but most of all you can hear Cat giving it passion when he sings and the sheer range of instruments he plays. I've always loved this track - and yet at nearly nineteen minutes - it doesn't feel laboured or overstaying its welcome. The final part play-out when he sings "...The moment you fell inside my dreams...I realised all I had not seen..." is joyful and dare we say it - cool.

Preceding the album - Island Records UK tried the Side 2 opener "The Hurt" as a 45 on Island WIP 6163 in July 1973 with "Silent Sunlight" from the "Catch Bull At Four" album as its B-side. It's a great Cat Stevens melody lifted hugely by the 'oohs' and 'aahs' of the three Soulful ladies on backing vocals - Patti Austin, Barbara Massey and Tasha Thomas (Jean Roussel's String and Brass contributions help too). His always close to the surface pain and longing come screaming through the aching "How Many Times" - one of the LP's forgotten gems. Herbie Flowers plays a sweet bass but Cat’s own gentle tinkles on the piano also entrance. "Later" is a wicked foot-tapper that could also have been a lead off 7" single if not for its slightly saucy nature - Phil Upchurch, the girls and those Jean Roussel string arrangements (this one done in conjunction with Cat) all adding hugely to the overall sonic impact. "100 I Dream" has somehow always felt like the weakest song on the LP - but actually on re-hearing it in 2016 - I'm digging it a whole lot more - even if it isn't the greatest tune on the CS roster.

Reviewers always want to focus on 1970's breakthrough album "Tea For The Tillerman" followed by the glorious "Teaser And The Fire Cat" in 1971 - but Cat Stevens is one of those artists where I want to own everything because I know there'll be good stuff on them somewhere. And "Foreigner" contains a lot of that 'good stuff' (it’s online for peanuts too). 

"...Heaven must have programmed you..." - Cat Stevens sings on "Foreigner Suite". 
Indeed she did...

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