As Yusuf/Cat Stevens continues to reissue his Cat-a-log with updated anniversary editions- remastered, and in some cases remixed and accented with additional tracks- the series has reached 1972’s Catch Bull At Four. The eventual platinum-seller was, at the time of its original release, the fourth consecutive Stevens album to reach the top of the charts. Both artistically and sonically, this terrifically remastered version is yet another beautiful Cat record back in the spotlight.
Though it did signal a shift for Stevens musically, leaning into his R&B and soul inclinations more than on previous efforts, it’s also quite a spiritual set, and one that tugged Stevens in the opposite direction of his massive commercial success. And while it did not have a lead single that grabbed like others had in the past, one listen to the lead-off, “Sitting,” indicates the kind of determined urgency that Stevens was projecting in his thoughts and voice. This is an ambitious and maybe even daring record, when such celebrity that was following the massive album sales of his previous records could have lured him into a simple re-hash of Teaser and the Firecat or Tea for the Tillerman. Instead, it’s Stevens extending himself toward a morning horizon in the distance, full of new ideas and a journey ahead.
It’s not to say that Catch Bull At Four, celebrating its 50th anniversary, lacks the hallmarks of the folk rock master at the height of his craft. They are still fully present on “Silent Sunlight” or “Sweet Scarlet.” Many of their brethren, though, have a conspicuous darker shade, almost as if Stevens knew he was forging into fresh territory that required such commitment, as evidenced in the girded passion of “Angelsea” or the Broadway sweep of “18th Avenue.”
What may have been a harbinger of change five decades ago has settled into Stevens’ discography as a progressive and natural step forward in his artistic evolution; never sounding more dramatic or compelling as it does here.