The return of the man formerly known as Cat Stevens is an event. But An Other Cup is uneventful. The last we (the public) heard from Yusuf Islam involved a No-Fly List incident. Prior to that we were told he supported the fatwa of Salman Rushdie. “Off with his head!” shouted Yusuf (not exactly – actually not at all). Let’s go back to when we originally heard from him (Cat Stevens, that is): Oh peace train sounding louder/ Glide on the peace train” (“Peace Train”, 1971). The media shuns coverage of Yusuf’s charity work, opting instead only to mention him when it involves hold-ups at the airport or an author’s decapitation. Let’s hope An Other Cup is considered charitable. That is, let’s hope the media looks the opposite way. Because although Yusuf Islam is a formidable human rights advocate and a doorway to honest discourse on Islam, the end of his 28-year hiatus from music isn’t as awe-inspiring.
Full of spirituality and hope, these new songs lack a thrust. They meander along, not matching the vehemence and determination Yusuf demonstrates outside the realm of music. They are minor songs—quiet, subdued, hushed—even when accompanied by a horn section (“Midday (Avoid City After Dark)”) and the assistance of old friends (Alun Davies, Jean Roussel, Danny Thompson). We should expect more from a man who has been the subject of such misunderstanding and inaccurate scrutiny. We don’t expect a meditative, bearded, and peaceful man to come out with canons, curses, and catcalls; we don’t expect any irrational behavior, but we do expect an earnest record, uncompromising and excited. We expect an album that stands as tall and purposeful as his life itself.