‘Steal The Light’ sees The Cat Empire return with their sixth album and there is a lot here which should keep critics, the group’s fans and newcomers happy. The reappearance of Harry James Angus as a leading influence, with his trumpet and most prominently on this album with his vocals, is a welcome one after his limited visibility on 2010’s ‘Cinema’. In fact it is his contributions as lead singer which stand out on this album and which will remain on the group’s tour set lists for the longest time to come. ‘Prophets In The Sky’, ‘Am I Wrong’ and ‘Wild Animals’ all make the most of Harry’s vocal development and use it to add musical depth and energy to what is already some strong songwriting. This is a much more upbeat record than their last effort, seeing a return to the energy of their early efforts but which at the same time has retained the matured songwriting which has characterises their music over recent years.
Album opener and first single, ‘Brighter Than Gold’ is an energetic start and the strongest song with Felix on lead vocals. A deluge of animalistic imagery (complementing the album’s unique cover) results in a song that lyrically doesn’t make a whole heap of sense but which compels you to move in spite, or perhaps because of that ambiguity. This is followed by ‘Prophets In The Sky’, the first of trumpeter and second vocalist Harry James Angus’ turns as lead singer. As with many of his efforts through the album, this is a smooth track which revolves around a slow chorus showcasing Angus’ impressive range. Whilst retaining a similar structure to this, ‘Wild Animals’ holds its own as the stand-out and most memorable moment on the album. Pounding drums and staccato vocals combine for a raw energy that makes this track irrepressible live (as seen at Bluesfest this year) but the addition of a female gospel choir takes the polish to another level of professionalism.
Felix delivers a couple of tracks that are more standard Cat Empire fare with ‘Still Young’, ‘Steal The Light’ and ‘Like A Drum’. Even though we’ve heard the sound before, when they fire together on a track, it is impossible not to get caught up in the mood this incredible party band creates and this is most definitely what happens on the ska-influenced ‘Still Young’ which sets a rollicking pace and doesn’t look back. The weakest tracks on the album are, perhaps predictably, the slowest ones: ‘Open Up Your Face’ and ‘All Night Loud’ drag a bit and don’t have enough direction, leaving them feeling a bit out of place on such a lively album. Whilst the torch has not been totally passed from Felix to Harry, there is a definite change in the band’s power-balance on this record. In an inexperienced group with lesser people this would have been an insurmountable hurdle, so it is a testament to the group’s upbeat nature (present in both their music and personalities) that all parties involved have been able to take this in their stride and move where the music has taken them regardless of egos.
Fans of The Cat Empire should be delighted with this return to form and for first-time listeners this will prove to be a great introduction to the band if you enjoy their style of music. So get your dancing shoes on and get ready to move with the music of Australia’s liveliest band.