By the time Back To Earth was released in December 1978, Cat Stevens knew he was no longer Cat Stevens…

Cat Stevens

Having converted to Islam the year before, Yusuf Islam owed his record company one final album. Rather than dash off a contractual obligation filler, Back To Earth reunited him with his hits-era producer Paul Samwell-Smith and guitarist/sometime co-writer Alun Davies.

The results were inevitably melancholic, but often passionate, too, both in the lyrical assault of prescient environmental rocker New York Times or the instrumental Nascimento, where Stevens/Islam married his funk sensibilities to his new interests in other cultures’ music and promptly conjured up a groove that managed to summarise Acid Jazz a decade before its foundation.

Bad Brakes would be the final time Davies contributed a chewy guitar co-write, bringing out the powerful rock side often overlooked in Cat Stevens’ usual image as a contemplative folky. Contemplative folk is here, too, of course, notably the tender Father.

An excellent document of the singer’s transition away from the mainstream, this reissue is available as the regular album or a 5CD boxset with a wealth of worthwhile extras. There’s an 11-song demos and live songs disc including the previously-unreleased catchy nugget Toy Heart. The album Yusuf produced for his brother David Gordon, Alpha Omega, is here – somewhat gauche, but including the sweet lullaby I See That Face. Best of all is the eight-song farewell performance as Cat Stevens from 1979. Recorded at Wembley Arena, the Unicef benefit’s version of Father And Son lifts it straight out of its twee Boyzone associations and back into a vision of wonder and purity.

Since 2006, Yusuf has quietly returned to making singer-songwriter albums. In retrospect, Back To Earth was both a worthy farewell to one life and a thoughtful introduction to a new identity.

8/10

John Earls

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