A school bus. 2004. We are headed to a coastal camp. I am sitting next to my friend Maddy and we are singing. The entire self-titled album by The Cat Empire. Other kids give us weird looks but we keep going. We are in love with this music. Yes, this album had a huge impact on my life and house, leaving the latter plastered in homemade “The Cat Empire Rules!” stickers that I still find from time to time.
Deciding to review this old favourite had me feeling slightly trepidatious. I hadn’t given it a good listen for several years. Would I still love it? Well, being consumed by the waves of memories that flooded back during listening left me with little time to make up my mind. However, after several listens I have decided. This is a great album once you learn to love the band’s spirit of optimism.
For some, optimism is off-putting. I remember asking a friend once if she liked The Cat Empire, to which she replied rather spitefully “Yeah they’re great if you feel like dancing around and eating salsa.” She was more into moody bands like The Smiths. There is a tendency to see heavier or darker music as more intelligent than upbeat music. This is a shame, because optimistic music like The Cat Empire’s is often just as complex and interesting as its pessimistic alternative. Yes, The Cat Empire’s belief system as expressed on this album is pretty simple. For them it’s all about sunny days, sex, wine, music, friends and spending time doing “nothing at all”. However, the music itself is richly layered and the lyrics are clever, thought-provoking and if taken on board, potentially life-changing.
This album is bursting with important messages: about the healing power of music, about the importance of taking time to do nothing and about the wonders of nature and sunlight. To truly understand what The Cat Empire is all about, look no further than Manifesto (WE BELIEVE/In the grass in the trees/WE SUPPORT/Living life ’cause life is short/WE UPHOLD /Sky of blue sun of gold/WE MAINTAIN/On sunny days all sadness and pain be relieved).
[youtube id=”NrEvwO1F7Cw” width=”620″ height=”360″]
My favourite song on this album has always been The Wine Song, with its constantly changing tempo and time signature, organ solo, and Harry Angus’ totally unique vocals, which include some crazy scatting and lots of “whoopas.”
There are so many highlights though. The lyrics to The Crowd, an urban anthem that any city dweller can relate to. The cheekiness of its best known track, Hello. The brass, oh the brass, the whole way through the album (there are so many incredible trumpet solos). The sexiness of The Rhythm.
[youtube id=”wfJe3BRoJV8″ width=”620″ height=”360″]
Maybe I’m biased, having loved this album for 10 years, but for me there are no low-points on this album. There is so much variation in style and rhythm that I never get bored.
Yes, this is predominantly happy music. And, for me, that is refreshing.