Cat Stevens

Back to Earth

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In retrospect, it is not hard to find hints of a coming change in the final album Cat Stevens made before a near-death experience and a religious conversion. "I must be heading for a breakdown," he notes in "Bad Brakes," the album's sole singles-chart entry; there are songs titles like "Last Love Song" and "Never"; and there is, throughout, an elegiac tone to the mostly quiet ballads. But it is just as easy to see Back to Earth as an intended return to the simple style of albums like Tea for the Tillerman and thus a return to form: producer Paul Samwell-Smith is back on board, along with his subdued arrangements, and Stevens is again investigating his favorite themes, including children ("Daytime"), the father-son relationship ("Father"), and the vulnerable nature of romantic love, in plain-spoken verses. The year 1978 was late for a sensitive singer/songwriter to make a comeback; most of the folkies were getting tossed off the major labels by then. So, it's doubtful that Back to Earth could have re-established Cat Stevens even if he had been willing and able to promote it. As it is, the album serves as a satisfying coda to his pop career.

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