Yusuf / Cat Stevens, ‘King of a Land': Album Review
In recent years Yusuf / Cat Stevens has been exploring his past in both expected and unexpected ways. A series of expanded reissues have secured the legacies of some of his most beloved and popular works of the '70s, while more recent recordings have included overt references to his past catalog.
Paul Samwell-Smith, who produced Stevens' best albums, Tea for the Tillerman and Teaser and the Firecat, and stayed with him through the '70s, returned to his orbit for 2017's The Laughing Apple and 2020's Tea for the Tillerman 2 and has been instrumental in Stevens' creative rebound. The former Yardbirds bassist shapes King of a Land as a sequel to the 2017 album, invoking '70s-era spiritual warmth while pulling a suitably comforting performance from Stevens.
Unlike the two previous records, his first to include the Cat Stevens moniker since 1978, King of a Land is made up of all new material. Half of The Laughing Apple came from rerecorded versions of older, obscure songs; Tea for the Tillerman 2 was a total reworking of his classic 1970 LP. Without those earlier and more sturdy crutches to stand on, however, King of a Land only occasionally finds its footing.
Yusuf / Cat Stevens rarely compromises, though, giving committed readings to these 12 songs, many of which touch on his familiar themes of religion and childhood innocence. The album's cover art even looks like an illustration from a children's book, a trait that carries over to the music inside. The title tune could be the theme for a TV program aimed at little ones, complete with kids-choir accompaniment and plucking strings.
But it's the more adult songs on King of a Land that work best. The wistful "Train on a Hill" that starts the record is about moving on and the dangers of standing still, while "Pagan Run" combines a cutting guitar riff with spiritual doubt, and the hooky "All Nights, All Days" and the deceitfully playful "Take the World Apart" call for change through peace. So, not much has changed in Yusuf / Cat Stevens' music over the past half-century. He even sounds remarkably the same, singing in a voice that's lost none of its geniality and compassion, even if the world has.