Cat Stevens (Yusuf)/Teaser and the Firecat (Super Deluxe Edition) /Island/UMC
Five out of Five Stars
The third in a series of classic albums that secured Cat Stevens’ place in the hierarchy of influential singer/songwriters of the ’70s, Teaser and the Firecat verified the fact that Stevens’ gift for melody and composition were rarified to the greatest degree. Like his closest contemporaries, James Taylor and Jackson Browne in particular, he was capable of creating one masterwork after another, crowning his achievements in ways that managed to elevate his efforts higher than even the highest plateau he had reached before.
That said, Teaser and the Firecat was a decidedly subtle album compared to its predecessors, and with the exception of the emphatic “Bitterblue” and “Tuesday’s Dead,” it was mostly reliant on tender ballads and consistent tugs of the heartstrings in ways that all but assured an immediate embrace. Songs such as “Moonshadow,” Morning Has Broken,” “Peace Train” and “How Can I Tell You” rank among his greatest compositions and accomplishments, an indelible part of ‘70s folklore that have not only withstood the test of time, but also the changes in Stevens’ trajectory from popular musician to a religious iconoclast who changed his name and turned his back on his former glories.
Like the expanded treatment given his two previous albums, the 50th-anniversary edition of Teaser and the Firecat (a further expansion of a two-disc revamp released last year) offers this exceptional album the fully expanded effort it deserves, complete with the original album remastered on CD, LP and Blu-ray, a CD and LP of alternate versions and demos, two CDs and a Blu-ray of live performances from the period, a 7” single boasting “Moonshadow” on one side and a Spike Milligan narrative of the animated Teaser and the Firecat animated short on the other, a sumptuous coffee table book that shares the album’s backstory and Stevens’ reflections on the making of the album, and a picture book that shares images from the aforementioned short film.
It’s a riveting and remarkable package, one well worth digging through the couch cushions for the change needed to acquire it. Granted, there is repetition; the demos and alternate versions mostly sound so similar to the album’s original songs that discerning any difference is really a matter of leaning in and listening. The inclusion of the B-side “I Want to Live in a Wigwam,” the heretofore unreleased “Fisherman Song” and a “reimagined” take on “Bitterblue” up the ante of course, but it’s the live readings from the BBC broadcasts and Montreux that fully illuminate Stevens’ powers and prowess. By this point, of course, he was already a seasoned performer, having scored his first hits at age 18 with such trivial pop fare as “Matthew and Son” and “I Love My Dog,” but his performances on these two occasions reflect confidence and clarity borne of superior songwriting and the accolades reaped as a result.
Looking back on this album, and all the albums Stevens’ released at the peak of career, it’s clear that he set the standard not only for his era but in fact, for all that would follow. Cost aside, consider this revisit absolutely essential.