4th Stop To Enlightenment

4th Stop To Enlightenment

Oh I can’t keep it in, I can’t keep it in,
I’ve gotta let it out
I’ve got to show the world, world’s got to see,

See all the love; love that’s in me
Can’t Keep It In

Traditional students of Zen Buddhism learn of the Ten Bulls, which are the 10 stages in the practitioner’s progression to enlightenment. The fourth step is “Catching The Bull”, which illustrates a great struggle, the bull repeatedly will escape and discipline is required. Catch Bull at Four is chronologically Cat Stevens’ 6th album, but it his 4th after his near-fatal bout with Tuberculosis during which he was hospitalised and recuperated for two years. He spent that time changing his “attitude” and also changing his music. When he reappeared, Mona Bone Jakon, Tea For The Tillerman, and Teaser and the Firecat became his new explorations of religion, philosophy, introspection, and meditations. Each album became successively more popular, and more critically acclaimed. Mona Bone Jakon received huge accolades from Rolling Stone and other industry magazines, it was justifiably compared to Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connection in accessibility to listeners across a broad spectrum of genres. Tea For The Tillerman went to Billboard chart #8, went gold in six months, and eventually 3-times multi-platinum. Tea For The Tillerman is also #206 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time. Teaser and the Firecat flew to the #2 spot on the charts, sold gold in less than three weeks, and has also gone 3-times mulit-platinum. Finally, in 1972, Cat Steven’s Catch Bull at Four was his most rapidly successful album. It went gold in a mere 15 days and held onto the #1 spot on Billboard for three weeks.

All this despite the fact that a single was not designated from the album. By chance, ‘Sitting’ was released as a single and reached #16, however, it clearly demonstrated Cat Steven’s approach to album-oriented buyers, serious audiophiles who appreciated introspective and spiritual lyrics. Indeed Catch Bull at Four still nursed those two Cat Stevens’ traits but he introduced a slightly more rough-tinged voice and more electrical over acoustic sounds than on the previous three outings. Cat even added synthesizers to his instruments played as well as double bass, electric mandolin, electric piano and the Böhm Diamond organ. He also arranged for lush choral vocals from a choir and other guest vocalists. If Teaser and the Firecat was his artistic pinnacle, then Catch Bull at Four is at the very least his most “interesting” album. Sacrificing nothing from his well nurtured sound, Cat enveloped that sound with more fullness than ever before. The songs are unique, each being a separate story in the great struggle that was indicative of where he felt he was in his search for enlightenment. The most sparse song on the album is the beautiful ode to Carly Simon, his girlfriend at the time, ‘Sweet Scarlet’. Also, a significant standout on the album is the Greco-Latin ‘O Caritas’, like ‘Rubylove’ before it, utilising bouzouki to add much flavour to an already gorgeous song. ‘Angelsea’ and ‘Freezing Steel’ are “heavy” songs (by Cat Stevens standards), ‘Sitting’ opens up the album with the identification of Cat’s journey to find enlightenment. ‘Can’t Keep It In’ is his rock and soul send-up. I find it interesting in this period of musical experimentation that “heavy” electric groups were moving into acoustic instrumentation with a folk edge (Led Zeppelin III) while “folk” artists were adding heavy electric sound to their acoustics! Music was moving to a cross-genre spectrum. For the Cat Stevens purist, one cannot help but point to the lovely story told in ‘The Boy With The Moon & The Star On His Head’, simply one of his best compositions ever.

Cat Stevens 4th spiritual album correlates directly to his stop at the 4th Bull of Zen Buddhism’s journey of the Bodhisattva. The student ventures into the wilderness in his search for “the Bull” (the true self). His efforts prove fruitless at first but, undeterred, he keeps searching and eventually finds footprints on a riverbank. When he sees the bull for the first time he is amazed by the splendour of its features (’empty and marvellous’ is a well known phrase used to describe the perception of Buddha nature). However, the student has not tamed the bull, and must work hard to bring it under control. Eventually he reaches the highest Enlightenment, returns to the world and “everyone I look upon becomes enlightened.”

‘I’ll tell you everything I’ve learned,’
And ‘Love’, is all he said.

The Boy With A Moon And Star On His Head

Review by Beatlenik (September 7, 2011)

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