Cats in Space appeared from nowhere in 2015 with an album, Too Many Gods, that was an absolute tour-de-force of what the band themselves liked to call ‘power pop-rock’. Me, I preferred the term ‘pomp rock mayhem’, but somewhere between those two poles, as ever, lies the truth. Whatever the nomenclature, it was a quite superb album. Surely the band can’t come back in 2017 with a new album, Scarecrow, that’ll top TMG?
Sensibly, they haven’t really tried. Scarecrow, y’see, is a very different beast to Too Many Gods. Not better, not worse – certainly not in the most simplistic understanding of those two words, anyway – it’s very obviously still Cats in Space, just… more so.
Scarecrow offers a more intense listening experience than it’s predecessor. Everything is cranked up to eleven, and not just the volume. Opener Jupiter Calling is pure pomp rock nirvana, summoning the ghosts of names like Boston, Touch and Angel to the table to do the band’s bidding; It succeeds in gloriously bombastic style, but this is Cats in Space we’re talking about, and this style is barely visited again as the band deploy every last trick in the book to give the listener value for money.
If you’ve any sense you’ll already be familiar with the first single from the album, Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. If you haven’t, give it a listen for further reference but shame on you for not keeping your finger on the feline pulse. Clown in Your Nightmare leaves the band’s usual seventies hunting ground to flirt with the sixties and a sound strangely reminiscent of the themes of cult TV shows like Randall and Hopkirk Deceased and The Persuaders; It’s only reminiscence, mind – as usual this is grade A classically nuanced rock n’roll we’re talking about, whatever the trimmings might say to the contrary. Scars is an utterly sublime ballad, ushered in with some Springsteenian harmonica before blossoming into a song that in time will come to be known as a Cats in Space classic. Vocalist Paul Manzi goes above and beyond on this track, bolstered – as ever- by a rousing chorale of assorted backing cats who never fail to hit the target with their harmonies.
September Rain is pure seventies chart heat; Based around a thumpingly solid Jeff Brown bassline the chorus will take those of you old enough right back to the days of Supersonic and Tiswas, Pilot-style harmonies taking the song to the heights alongside some delicious six string work from Greg Hart and Dean Howard.
Hart and Howard then steal the show completely on the fabulous Broken Wing, where the band almost out-pomp even themselves with the most monstrous stadium-ready anthem you’ll hear in 2017. Track-upon-track of pristine harmonies, beefed up by thunderous percussion from Steevi Bacon? Check on both counts. But all that becomes mere bagatelle once the tango mid-section kicks in and the axes take over. My word, I’m trembling just typing about it. Just wait til you hear the Scholz n’Delp style-string slide that starts the solo…
This, as John Gorman and Chris Tarrant so wisely put it so many years ago, is what they want. A guitar arsenal, a synth orchestra (Andy Stewart absolutely nails this and every other track on the album), an avalanche of vocals both lead and backup… Broken Wing just has all this and more, including a nifty change of gear at the end just to let you know that it’s time to break out the air guitars… It’s perfect pomp.
After that you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Cats have shot their collective bolts, but no sir, stay listening for more treats…
2 Minutes 59 is a sparkly pop paean to the days of AM ‘hit’ radio, complete with infectious vocals (and, cheekily, a little piano riff lifted from eighties pretty boys ABC) laced with strident yet melodious axe interjections and an earworm refrain you’ll be humming for the foreseeable future once you’ve let it sink in. Which you will. Man alive, you will.
The quirkily prancing sixties pop of Felix and the Golden Sun (read: sixties through a Beach Boys/Jellyfish filter) might just be or a little too much for fans of the heavier side of Cats In Space, however everyone else will be entranced by the summery harmonies, sleighbells and general upbeat jauntiness. It’s here that the full breadth of vision this band possesses is laid at it’s most knowingly bare. There quite literally isn’t anything they aren’t able to do musically, and do it masterfully. Consequently everything they do is a joy to listen to, whether it be gloriously thunderous heavy rock n’roll or a joyful celebration of kitsch. This is truly music for all seasons.
Penultimate track Timebomb is another slice of attractive hard rock that prompts this reviewer to thoughts of Canadian giants Saga, although the crashing gong at the end is surely straight from the Roger Taylor playbook.
Which leaves the title track to bring the curtain down on this spectacular second act. Crashing in like a monstrous long-lost piece of David Byron-era Uriah Heep melodrama, Scarecrow wends its way through nearly eight minutes of pure suspenseful storytelling, Manzi bringing all his theatrical experience to bear in a performance that sounds like an entire West End Cast powering out of one set of lungs; Elsewhere not one ounce of effort is spared by any other of the players to bring the song home. Each man puts in a bravura performance, in an ensemble climax that really does bring the house down.
I said earlier that Scarecrow wasn’t necessarily better than its predecessor, but I was messing about. It is, and it’s also better than anything else in its field you’ll hear in 2017. Majestic.
Scarecrow will be released on August 25th. Pre-Order it HERE