Monday, November 16, 2020

Tea For The Tillerman 2: Album Review

“I know we’ve come a long way, we’re changing day to day… but tell me where do the children play?” 

This central question opens the Tea For The Tillerman album (the title itself evoking childlike innocence), an album suffused in the times that it was made. 

By 1970 the ideals of Flower power were beginning to wash away and the burgeoning confessional singer songwriter began to look inward and face the conflict that ensues when adulthood meets those youthful ideals... 

Look no further than the singer’s signature track, “Father and Son”, to see this theme explored beautifully (“it's always been the same, same old story, from the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen”). And yet these songs still have pertinence in the times we live in. Yusuf (the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens) acknowledges the same old stories of our modern times (the generation gap, industrialisation, the pursuit of personal freedom) and breathes new life into these plaintive compositions with the reimagined, Tea for The Tillerman 2.

Tillerman opens with “Where Do The Children Play?”, a song that’s ecological musings is worryingly relevant in 2020. Yusuf explained the song as about the conflict in finding “the balance of nature to allow our children to play, to enjoy life”. That dichotomy is explored in the line “you roll on roads over fresh green grass, for your lorry loads pumping petrol gas.” Whereas in the original recording, the innocence displayed in the music complimented Yusuf’s growing passion and frustration, in this updated version the vocals are tired and gravelly. It’s almost as if the titular question has been asked too many times, the singer has seen too much to channel the anger of his youth. In this respect this reimagined album raises some interesting questions for the listener regarding the material. It is a testament to Yusuf’s vocal abilities that the songs persevere. He may not have the intensity of a twenty-two-year-old anymore, but his voice is deepened by experience and a world weariness.

This approach works well on the album's second track too; “Hard Headed Woman”, a track where the singer espouses the need to find a life partner who will “take me for myself”. In Tea For The Tillerman 2, the lyric subtly changes to “now that I’ve found my hard headed woman”, another example of the contentment found in Yusuf’s later years. These new interpretations do not always land; Wild World, one of the biggest hits from the album, has been turned into a jazzy affair and though it is to be commended that Yusuf would so drastically deconstruct the composition in favour of originality, it loses all of the emotional power that the original contained.

For much of the album however, he trusts the material and arrangements that he wrote many years ago. “Into White” and “Sad Lisa” still contain a breathless kind of beauty, while “On The Road To Find Out” is revived with a great bluesy energy.

However, it is the penultimate track, “Father and Son”, that is the emotional core of the album. Here Yusuf sings the father's verses while a recording of his younger self sings the “son” portion of the lyrics, creating a brilliantly realized concept where he is literally posing these questions to himself. The searching frustration and resentment of youth meets the understanding wisdom of age with great poignancy. Even more poignant is the idea that this reimagining was the idea of Yusuf’s son, Yoriyos. If revisiting these songs does nothing more than remind us of the achingly personal lyrics and melodies of the original album, then it is a very worthy listen. 

After all, “it's always been the same, same old story.”

Josh Lambie
insta: jlamb325

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