A good half of New Masters still sounds like a lab-created Neil Diamond, but the other half reveals a diamond in the rough.
Kronomyth 2.0: That cat ain’t coming in, he’s going out.
To be imperfectly honest, I never understood how Cat Stevens caused such a sensation in the beginning of his career. I just assumed the success of “Matthew and Son” and “I Love My Dog” was a case of being in the right place at the right time. And then there he was, standing in the same place eight months later, and he couldn’t get arrested. Musical tastes don’t change that quickly. And, so, New Masters (like Matthew and Son before it) is another mystery, though one of a different kind.
If you’re thinking that New Masters is an inferior copy of his first album, get that thought out of your head. It’s a better album in almost every way. The songs are better, the arrangements are better, Cat’s vocals are better (and getting noticeably deeper) and the album rocks more than before, which is something I’ve heard the young people like. With all that going for it, the album only generated one minor hit, Kitty, and failed to chart. (Interestingly, in a December 1967 poll from New Musical Express, Stevens was still ranked #12 among British male singers, behind Steve Winwood.)
Compared to his later work, New Masters sounds dated. You can blame producer Mike Hurst for that, who was forcing Stevens into the same heavily arranged and theatrical style of other Deram artists. But more of Cat’s personality claws through this time, beginning with the classic The First Cut Is the Deepest, which (like “Here Comes My Baby” before it) became a bigger hit for other artists. Moonstone (my favorite song on the album), Come on Baby, Blackness of the Night and The Laughing Apple also point forward to the intellectual and spiritual concerns of the future.
I’m reminded that everything happens for a good reason, even though that reason often remains obscured in our lifetime. The commercial failure of New Masters and Stevens’ subsequent bout with tuberculosis must have seemed formidable barriers to success at the time, but they forced the artist to jump higher, ultimately helping him reach new heights of success. Thus, hearing New Masters as a failure would be a mistake. It is, instead, a necessary part of the journey, with its own share of pleasant memories.
Original elpee version
A2. I’m So Sleepy
A3. Northern Wind
A4. The Laughing Apple
A5. Smash Your Heart
B1. The First Cut Is the Deepest
B2. I’m Gonna Be King
B3. Ceylon City
B4. Blackness of the Night
B5. Come on Baby (Shift That Log)
B6. I Love Them All
All songs written by Cat Stevens.
CD reissue bonus tracks
13. Here Comes My Wife (mono single version)
14. A Bad Night
15. The Laughing Apple (mono single version)
16. Kitty (mono single version)
17. Blackness of the Night (mono single version)
18. Lovely City (When Do You Laugh?) (mono single version)
19. Image of Hell (mono single version)
20. It’s a Supa (Dupa) Life (mono single version)
21. Here Comes My Wife (stereo version)
22. Where Are You? (mono single)
23. The View from the Top (mono single)
Cat Stevens with Phil Denys (music director), David Whitaker (music director), Ivor Raymonde (music director), Alan Tew (music director), Des Champ (music director). Produced by Mike Hurst.
Photographs by Arkadi de Rakoff.
Released on mono and stereo elpee in December 1967* in the UK (Deram, DML/SML-1018) and the US (Deram, DE-16010/DES-18010). (*First appeared in 12/30/67 issue of New Musical Express.)
- Re-packaged with Matthew and Son on 2-for-1 2LP in 1971 the US (Deram, DES 18005-10) with gatefold cover.
- Re-issued on elpee in 1982 in Japan (London, L20P-1072).
- Re-released on expanded compact disc in 2003 in Europe (Deram, 981 082-2) with 11 bonus tracks.
- Re-packaged with Mona Bona Jakon on 2-for-1 2CD on July 14, 2009 (101 Distribution).
- Re-released on 180g vinyl elpee in 2020 in the Netherlands (Deram, 0602508161063).