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Cat Stevens – King of a Land Review

Rent-free in the mind since cinema trips threw a new generation into the world of Yusuf / Cat Stevens, particularly Tea for the Tillerman, capitalising on this sudden energy was inevitable. Rightly so, and with Stevens now headed for a slot at Glastonbury, an album was surely on the horizon. That it was, and while King of a Land lands at a time where there is, indeed a new king, it did not need to get so loved-up to the prattling tributes levelled here. No more Tea for the Tillerman, the working man and his role in steering a ship no match for kissing up to royalty. Simpler regal blows can be heard in the brass openings of Train on a Hill, and the heart drops a little. But Stevens’ voice, which remains unchanged and ever-powerful, steadies course. 

Although repetitive, the shortness and acoustic-laden opener sets the tone nicely enough. Empty shimmers of what Stevens would do as King, free everyone, are found on the title track. Old-school freedom and broad liberties handed out to the soft-spoken elder statesman feel rub King of a Land the wrong way. Stevens has gone down the route of a historic King rather than modern one. He wants to be slashing away with a sword and making changes in his own interest, freeing whoever he sees fit rather than moping about and sinking into a velvet throne. Either way, it is wrong, and either way, uninteresting. Hoping for something new, as All Nights, All Days does, is a fair desire to carry.  

Some of King of a Land bring about the toothless and upbeat political messages which house other, better protest singers. Stevens does not quite convince of his diction to lowering taxes although he has not been thrown into the Houses of Commons to argue his point. Holding leaders to account with music has always been a go-to ambition of musicians, but few are out there writing up the next Tramp Down the Dirt from Elvis Costello. Stevens does sound a bit like the Liverpudlian these days. LadBaby has taken the chokehold and changed the charts, leaving no chance for the relatively out-of-touch openness of King of a Land to bring about real change. At least it is honest, that much can be respected and through the unwavering middle ground consistencies of this new Stevens album is a short and sweet experience. 

Yet pieces like the fearless Another Night in the Rain, as much as it slaps of a little arrogance with no need to worry despite the starvation mentioned earlier in the track, are on the right track. Its lyrical stumbling is a tad haughty with the empty bank balances and genuine worries coupled up with a scalding for those who moan of their fears. King of a Land sees Stevens cement himself as King of his own land, and in that, you cannot moan for a helping hand as the hand has already freed you. Difficult to swallow at times and harder still to nod along to the driven upbeat tones when the messages are so out of step with the real world. His structure and storytelling ambition are still there, as Son of Mary shows, but the likes of How Good It Feels and Highness are the equivalents of Gary Neville’s peaceful revolution calls.  

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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