Things aren’t going well for Cat Stevens on the planet, ah, polyethylene. Critics keep asking: would you buy a used I Ching from this man? Since Tea for the Tillerman, affirmation has been doubtful. Never a deep thinker and rarely a master of words, Stevens has now turned to the “majik” of numerology, only to have the melodies disappear down the decimal point. In fact, “Call Me Zero” would have been a perfect title for Numbers, an album so breathtakingly stupid that even the most loyal fan could count its merits without using any of the fingers on either hand.
Sententiously subtitled “A Pythagorean Theory Tale,” Numbers, ostensibly the story of some numerically named extraterrestrials, really isn’t about anything at all — no minor flaw in what purports to be a concept LP. Instead, Stevens wastes his time and ours with enough quasi-mystical graffiti to decorate a dozen disasters. “Drywood,” “Land o’ Free Love & Goodbye” and “Home” are mere calendar art, touristy post cards from an arcane Utopia apparently badly in need of enough Rolaids to dispel forever the malodorous “Banapple Gas” that may cause severe attacks of dreadful Gibranian diarrhea.
When Cat Stevens waltzed into A&M, singing “Well, I ain’t got nothing/But it don’t worry me,” he wasn’t kidding. In all respects, Numbers is even more self-indulgent and insipid than Foreigner, the artist’s only other attempt at self-production. Gone are the gorgeous instrumental textures and, more important, an intelligence capable of giving shape to the project. There would seem to be an equation here: Stevens minus the common sense and considerable technical skills of his regular producer, Paul Samwell-Smith, invariably equals nada. Perhaps this tribute to treacle is a joke, and Numb is the operative word. Spelled with a D.