Year of the Cat
Released: October 1976
Chart Peak: #5
Weeks Charted: 48
Certified Platinum: 3/24/77
Here's a bunch of sentimental, softly packaged songs by Al Stewart. None of them are helped at all, however, by Stewart's hissing sibilant "s"'s, which give even the elegiac "Lord Grenville" a prissily comic, Paul Lyndish quality. When he is set loose on something like the gloweringly melodramatic "On the Border," with such lines as "Smuggling guns and arms across the Spanish border" to be gotten through, the results are downright hilarious. Aside from Stewart's distracting speech (or recording) defect, though, this is a nice enough low-key collection with a warm, easy atmosphere. And, luckily, he ssstill playsss dynamite guitar.
- Peter Reilly, Stereo Review, 2/77.
Mellow album from the man who had a top 30 LP last year with Modern Times features Stewart's cool vocals and exceptionally well-arranged songs that are progressive without being pretentious. Produced by Alan Parsons, who has scored so strongly in the past couple of months with his Tales Of Mystery And Imagination LP. This set was recorded at the Abbey Road Studios in London, and through heavy use of strings has a symphonic, almost classical beauty. Best cuts: "On The Border," "Midas Shadow," "Broadway Hotel," "Year Of The Cat."
Rather than gothics or sci-fi, Stewart goes for historical novels, and as long as he shuts up about Nostradomous -- who inspired last year's Past, Present and Future, you'll remember -- I say good for him. Well, actually the historical note is limited this time out to one song about Lord Grenville and references to Leonardo, phantom harlequins, etc. The prevailing tone is more spy-novel. I ask you, did Eric Ambler have an ear for melody? B-
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
Al Stewart, the bed-sit balladeer, was consciously casting off his folk music background and obsessively recurring themes of unrequited love when Year of the Cat was recorded.
Sophisticated orchestrations pad out the guitar and piano based sound. A frequently chosen disc for hi-fi demonstration, Year of the Cat was recorded at Abbey Road with Alan Parsons behind the mixing desk. The CD incarnation reveals little more of the qualities of the original and does nothing to take the "fizz" out of the cymbal sound -- the scale and layering of sound in heavily arranged and carefully produced tracks like "On the Border" are still most impressive however. The Mobile Fidelity CD has a bassier balance. The sound, somewhat like the songs, is undynamic by today's standards.
- David Prakel, Rock 'n' Roll on Compact Disc, 1987.
Stewart's calm delivery gives his songs a reserved, tasteful sense of understatement, especially on the title track, one of those "mysterious woman" songs, which captivated listeners and turned the album into a million-seller. * * * *
- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
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