Cat Stevens

Box Sets

Phases and Stages

Cat Stevens

(A&M) Here's a 4-CD retrospective of the man now called Yusuf Islam, but whom we all know better under the name Cat Stevens. Accompanied by a graphics-rich book called In Search of the Centre of the Universe, On the Road to Find Out takes us from C. Stevens' pop beginnings ("Back to the Good Old Days," from 1965) to the more recent religious offerings of Y. Islam (1997's "God Is the Light"), with sufficient stops along the road to make fans of any theological hue believe their prayers have been answered. Titled "The City," "The Search," "The Hurt," and "The Last," the four discs suggest distinct phases within the chronological progression of songs, and with close examination, you might make a case for those labels. Musically speaking, however, only the first disc stands apart from the rest: a sore thumb painfully awry on an aural hand of glory. But this is a career overview, so it's historically apt to include cuts from the first two Brit releases, even though Stevens' songs are ravaged by then-producer Mike Hurst's over-the-top, brass-heavy orchestration that comes off like a sort of Herb Alpert petit mal and moves many of the tunes toward the cheesy stylings of Leonard Nimoy. "In Search of," indeed. Only that first part threatens to overlap sci-fi pop culture, as the rest of the enterprise (ahem) returns Stevens to more earthly, personal sounds: guitar, piano, some drums, and his distinctive, passionate voice. All the hits are here, and many respectable B-sides and live versions of favorites, even a few songs from his unstaged musical, Revolussia. Whether this sharp package will help anyone find the "centre" of the universe is a moot point, but wherever you are in this wild world, here's some good and sometimes heavy shit that'll make your existence even more wonderful a thing than it already is.

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