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Yusuf - An Other Cup

Yusuf, Another Cup

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

YUSUF Islam is one of the UK’s most celebrated artists. As Cat Stevens he achieved international success in both the Sixties and Seventies. But in 1977, Stevens embraced Islam, adopted the name Yusuf Islam and took a break from music.

Commenting on the reasons for his timely return, Yusuf explains: “There were a hundred reasons for leaving the music industry back in 1979, not least because I had found what I was looking for spiritually.

“Today, there are perhaps 101 good reasons why I feel right making music and singing about life in this fragile world again.”

He continues: “Music has changed but today I am in a unique position as a looking glass through which Muslims can see the west and the west can see Islam. It is important for me to be able to help bridge the cultural gaps others are sometimes frightened to cross.”

Certainly, Yusuf is well-equipped to be able to give this intention a go. His work has already been recognised with awards. In 2004, for instance, he was awarded the Man for Peace award by a committee of Nobel Peace laureates. And in 2005 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Gloucestershire for services to education and humanitarian relief.

Unsurprisingly, his new album An Other Cup is steeped in classic songwriting values and comes rich with messages for the world about unity, spirituality and religion. It’s a hopeful record that is occasionally brilliant and just occasionally too well meaning.

Certainly, Cat Stevens fans will want to embrace it, while there are times when his music hints at the style of George Harrison. It’s certainly meticulous in its approach and provides an easy listen that’s rich in melody.

Of the standout tracks, The Beloved is a genuinely rousing effort that’s both deeply melodic and reliant on some Islamic chanting in the background that works really well, while his cover version of Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood contains both a timely message and is delivered in gutsy, emphatic and emotionally involving style.

The Zen-like Whispers From A Spiritual Garden is a beautifully constructed piece of guitar and flute music that tips its hat to the likes of Mike Oldfield, complete with soundbite readings that offer spiritual contemplation, and Maybe There’s A World is a hopeful acoustic ballad that evokes memories of the quite, intimate, campfire sound of Jack Johnson at his most reassuring and laidback.

I have to confess, though, that I’m not a big fan of some of the more preachy material. Former single Heaven/Where True Love Goes layers on the message a little too strong and is built around a repetitive chorus – “I go where true love goes” – that starts to grate after a few listens.

While In The End is full of optimistic lyrics such as “evil’s going down in the end” that seem to naively fly in the face of the horrific images we see on the news on an almost daily basis.

There’s an almost sedate simplicity to the final two tracks Greenfields, Golden Sands and There Is Peace that also run the risk of becoming overly preachy. Maybe it’s the cynical journalist inside of me but the world isn’t always as simple as some of the songs suggest, especially when listening to lyrics such as “there is a dream, you can reach it if you try” and “there are angels, they are with you day and night”.

The sentiment is worthy but the reality is far different and Yusuf maybe needs to tread a finer line between creating music that offers a pleasant distraction from the day-to-day toils and that which threatens to become a little too noble.

That said, there’s still plenty here to enjoy that makes his long-overdue return worthwhile.

Track listing:

  1. Midday (Avoid City After Dark)
  2. Heaven/ Where True Love Goes
  3. Maybe There’s A World
  4. One Day At A Time
  5. When Butterflies Leave
  6. In The End
  7. Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood
  8. I Think I See The Light
  9. Whispers From A Spiritual Garden
  10. The Beloved
  11. Greenfields, Golden Sands
  12. There Is Peace