Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Cat Stevens

  • Mona Bone Jakon [A&M, 1970] B-
  • Tea for the Tillerman [A&M, 1971] B-
  • Catch Bull at Four [A&M, 1972] C
  • Buddha and the Chocolate Box [A&M, 1974] C-
  • Greatest Hits [A&M, 1975] B-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Mona Bone Jakon [A&M, 1970]
As an admirer of "Matthew and Son" and "I Love My Dog," two rock songs we should have heard more of in 1967, I made Cat my token singer-songwriter when this came out--the melodies were memorable, the dry intimacy of the singing had a nice post-creative-trauma feel, and I liked "Katmandu," which was about the physical (rather than spiritual) geography of a religious quest. Only later did I notice "Lady D'Arbanville" (his girlfriend), "Trouble" (too much for him), and "I Wish, I Wish" (a map of his soul). B-

Tea for the Tillerman [A&M, 1971]
My big problems with this record are no doubt why it's a hit: the artificially ripened singing, which goes down like a store-bought banana daiquiri, and the insufferable sexist condescension of "Wild World." B-

Catch Bull at Four [A&M, 1972]
Reading the lyric of "The Boy With the Moon and Star on His Head," I was impressed by how unpretentiously it simulated early English poetry. But when I listened--a widely recommended method for that perception of songs--I noticed affectations like "the naked earth beneath us and the universe above," and winced at the next-to-last couplet, which ends with a weak word for the sake of a weak rhyme. Then I browsed in Norman Ault's anthology of Elizabethan lyrics. Forget it, Cat. C

Buddha and the Chocolate Box [A&M, 1974]
The difference between an album you love and an album you hate is often one or two cuts. An inspired song that fulfills a fantasy you never knew you had can make you believe in a whole side, while a song that commits some deadly sin can drag innocents to perdition. In "Music," for example, Cat tells us there wouldn't be any "wars in the world/If everybody joined in the band." This kind of lie is called a tautology; it's like saying there wouldn't be any hunger if everyone became an ice cream man. And makes you wonder why a guy who loves trees so much (reference: "King of Trees") designed a double-fold cover with cardboard inner sleeve for this unlovable single LP. C-

Greatest Hits [A&M, 1975]
Stevens has more spunk and verve than any other singer-songwriter I dislike. He's unpretentious yet harmonically idiosyncratic, with nice dissonances and a rocking chunka beat. He can be charming about things that really are nice, like dawn, and a few of the many songs he has written about his own confusion have a winning je-ne-sais-quoi. Unfortunately, for such a confused person, though, most things aren't really nice, and when "the world as it is" isn't driving him to tears ("Peace Train") he often lies about it. B-

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