Izitso is good proof that behind Cat Stevens’ sentimental and somewhat naive persona there exists a musician and composer more far-reaching than the wistful but cloying singer/songwriter who relies largely on soft acoustic instrumentation. Touching several bases, often in apparent opposition to each other, Stevens displays both the diversity and the maturity to match this seeming incongruity.
Stevens and Jean Roussel enhance much of the arranging with their keyboards — synthesizers especially. “Life” melds six different keyboards within its cathedralesque seriousness and reserve. Yet on the same song Stevens cleverly fits in a lively, quickly delivered bouzouki interlude, and no seams show. “Kypros,” where Stevens plays all the instruments, takes the tack further; here, the machinery (in tones much like Walter Carlos’ in his electronic adaptations of Bach) joins with more folk-derived bouzouki phrases. Between these two cuts Izitso offers a slice of the Muscle Shoals session battery, an unexpected and wholly successful foray into harder rock.
Weaknesses do surface, though not from any overreaching. “Sweet Jamaica” and “(I Never Wanted) To Be a Star” are rather precious, and the electronics on “Was Dog a Doughnut” are a bit too robotlike. More than one song contains the obvious lyric: “We’re getting older as time goes by/A little older with everyday/We were the children of yesterday.” The production — Stevens with Dave Kershenbaum — preens some of the bite (twice, Chick Corea gets smothered in mixes); nevertheless, this is a spirited and varied outing.