Melbourne, Australia's The Cat Empire must have enjoyed all
of the attention that they received for their 2007 release Two
Shoes because the sextet are back again for another round with
their latest release So Many Nights. Produced by guitarist
John Porter, So Many Nights branches the band out into
different styles like soft rock and acoustic pop while keeping a few
tracks that maintain the band's dancehall funk/island flavored jazz
romps, but their good-time band jams have been molded into contemporary
pop and easy listening melodies for the most part. Still with two
lead singers, percussionist Felix Riebl - whose hip-hop/reggae
jolts fit snugly into the pockets of the rhythmic grooves - and trumpeter
Harry James Angus - whose bluesy textures have a charcoal burning
plume - The Cat Empire is like they were before but culminating a
modern pop sound in their funky jazz stylistics by incorporating more
brass, guitar and orchestral strings in the lacings of their melodies.
Those larger horn sections include trumpet/flugelhorn player Ross
Irwin and trombonist Kieran Conrau whose flickering Mariachi-drenched
fuses on tracks like "Sunny Moon" and "Radio Song"
saunter alongside the salsa moves, shimmies, and box steps making
up the melodic décor. The track "The Darkness" has
whipping Spanish percussions that accrue into an inflammation of bolero-styled
dances and clambering horns spinning into wild Turkish dervishes.
It is a track that shows the breadth of the band's artistic abilities
and their openness to adapt to different musical influences. The dancehall
funk rubies stapling spokes of glimmer in the melodies of "Fishes"
and "So Long" bask in suave jazzy horns and body pulsing
rhythms from The Cat Empire's bassist Ryan Monro, drummer Will
Hull-Brown, and percussionist/turntable scratcher Jamshid "Jumps"
Khadiwala. The Cat Empire's keyboardist/organist Ollie McGill
creates the whistling verses and sparks that seep into the nooks and
crannies of "Lonely Moon" as Angus's vocals add hyphenations
of falsettos that squeal across the melodic phrases.
The soft rock ballad of "No Longer There" has tender strings
which are eclipsed by the chorus of organ parts and pulley of billowing
rhythms honing an easy listening complexion. Other easy listening
tracks include "Won't Be Afraid," "No Mountain,"
and "'Til The Ocean Takes Us All" showing that the band's
lyrical content can be autobiographical or resound with a narrative
voicing like in "'Til The Ocean Takes Us All." The track
has Angus on lead vocals singing, "This is the story of two lover's
like twins/ They would do lovers things, blame original sin/ Look
into their eyes only for the meaning of the hour as if their only
everything existed in their power/ Yet low and behold they drifted
on a stream humming/ How does it go?/ Oh life is but a dream/ Well
the stream became a river/ And the river starts to tow/ They, they
didn't notice at all/ And on this black day the people shouted from
the shore/ Screaming 'Stop gazing and swim to save us all'/ But the
twins didn't hear at all/ They whispered nothings down the waterfall."
Though the lyrics may turn to melancholy, the music is suspended by
an uplifting vibe sometimes with a 60's psychedelic-toned organ, like
in "Strong Coffee," or the country western tint of "Voodoo
Cowboy," and sometimes the band heralds clips of jazzy pop romps
that sound like a James Bond theme song like in "Wanted
To Write A Love Song."
The Cat Empire have become strong songwriters on So Many Nights,
but they subdued the vivaciousness that the band pursued in Two
Shoes. Two Shoes bolsters more dance-tracks and a circus
troup vibe, whereas So Many Nights has more contemporary pop
and easy listening tracks. Still the band has some songs that are
simply custom built for Caribbean festivals. The Cat Empire have rejuvenated
Calypso-pop and funky jazz making this style acceptable for mainstream
radio like only a handful of others like Lily Allen have.
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