- The Washington Times - Monday, November 13, 2006

Yusuf Islam

An Other Cup


In case anyone was wondering, Yusuf Islam is all about peace, bridge building and, oh yes, love.

That was never in doubt when he went by the name of Cat Stevens and cranked out a skein of easily absorbed pop back in the 1970s.

Plenty has changed since then, the least of which is Mr. Stevens’ name. The bearded performer’s conversion to Islam led him first to abandon music and, later, to create a stir via indelicate comments about those who don’t share his faith.

Mr. Islam’s “An Other Cup,” his first batch of pop songs since 1978’s “Back to Earth,” finds the singer (whose birth name, by the way, was Steven Demetre Georgiou) setting the record straight on a number of fronts.

Much of “Cup” hearkens back to his commercial peak, when his soothing voice made him a radio darling. Yet a deeply felt spirituality is heard throughout it as well, though he never mentions Muhammad or his faith by name. Most singers bare their souls for the lover who passed them by. The object of Mr. Islam’s affections and praise stands much higher.

That’s not a distraction when “Cup” teeters on its time-warp mission. Songs such as “Midday” and “Heaven/Where True Love Goes” evoke the best sort of deja-vu sentiments. Longtime fans will rejoice as Mr. Islam adroitly summons his past, and they are likely to cut him some slack for his processed idealism.

In “Maybe There’s a World,” he sings of a time when “the people move from place to place and nobody’s taking sides,” but nothing in the song, or elsewhere, does more than scratch the surface of intolerance. You can hear a lurking desperation on “Maybe,” as if he knows just how useless a few sweet songs can be against the anger swirling around us in the world.

“Cup” isn’t always full of angst.

“I love to feel the wind blowing on my face,” Mr. Islam cries on “Midday” before some beautiful horns rescue his simplistic emotions.

Some “Cup” songs sound downright defensive. Take his version of the much-covered “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” His somber, serious approach feels like a musical press conference.

Mr. Islam marries his religion to his pop craftsmanship with “The Beloved,” a nifty arrangement complete with a wavering backing vocal by Senegalese star Youssou N’dour. It’s flat-out gorgeous.

“Cup” lets Mr. Islam tie up a few loose ends, like finally releasing the 1968 song “Green Fields, Golden Sands.”

We would love to spin “An Other Cup” as a wobbly return to near form, but current events and Mr. Islam’s own tortured biography make that impossible.

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