ARTIST: CATS IN SPACE
ALBUM: KICKSTART THE SUN
REVIEW BY: ALAN HOLLOWAY
Cats In Space are not your common or garden moggies stuffed into a space suit. These kitties are purebred rock and roll, releasing four studio albums so far that have showed a great talent for writing catchy hooks and bringing the best of 70s glam and pop kicking and screaming into today's MP3 players. 'Kickstart The Sun' is their second album with seasoned stage singer Damian Edwards, but the first that was actually written with him, and there's a lot of cat fans out there holding their breath in the hope that the chemistry demonstrated on 'Atlantis' will blossom even more here.
One thing they haven't done is lost any ambition, with 'Kickstart The Sun' rolling in at around sixty five minutes. Of course, the danger with this is there's plenty of room for songs that perhaps should have been culled, but I have to say that of the thirteen full songs here (plus shorter opening and closing tracks) there really aren't any that I feel the urge to skip.
The title track is split into three parts, with a minute long album intro joined by a two minute reprise at the end. The main song site nicely in the middle, six minutes of panic and hope as the intrepid catstronauts try to get the sun working again, thus saving the world! The album itself starts with a triple helping of absolute 'proper' Cats In Space bangers, with opener 'King Of The Stars' managing to make seven minutes seem like three, so upbeat, guitar fuelled and catchy it is. First single 'Poke The Witch' follows, a really catchy and quite quirky satire on modern life, with second dingle 'Teenage Millionaires' after that, a guitar led song with an irresistibly catchy chorus and more melody that a Top Of The Pops compilation album.
At this point, it's quite clear that Damien is well and truly part of the band, really searching for new peaks in each vocal performance, the climbing them with seeming ease. 'Goodbye To The American Dream' follows, playing very well to his stage strengths, a story led track that starts slow but has a chorus with bounce and a few horns that balances out the slower verses perfectly. The first ballad is '1,000,00 Miles', about being stuck in your spaceship and missing a special someone. The simple, mostly piano, accompaniment allows Damien to carry the whole thing on his own talents and it's a beautiful song that would have fitted nicely on Styx's 'The Mission' album. 'Fifty One Pillow Bed' is a much more typical 'Cats-lite' effort, just a simple, catchy and fun love song in the same vein as 'Magic Loving Feeling' from the last album. It may not be deep or emotional, but it's a cracking mid paced song that does exactly what you want, from the rich vocals to the uplifting guitar solo in the middle.
'Charlie's Ego' may well be my favourite here, even though it's really a three minute piece of fun about a faded star who doesn't get much work these days but is still a big star in his head. I love the lyrics, the bouncy keyboards and the fact that Damien gets to sing a verse as Charlie himself, totally changing his voice as he does so. It's a type of song that Cats In Space do so well, like 'Sunday Best' from the last album, and sounds like something from a really fun musical. After the excellent, layered title track, 'A Big Balloon' continues the space theme that is in several songs, though it's a relaxing, acoustic track that feels just right after the heroics of the previous one. 'Smoke & Mirrors' brings back the bounce and a real seventies feel at the same time.
'Hero' is the most sparse track on the album, a slow track with only piano behind Damien, allowing him to really go for it on the emotion and power stakes, and it's genuinely breathtaking to listen to , another that you can imagine being performed on stage. The album closes with a couple of more upbeat songs, and 'Last Dance Saloon' is the most ELO song that ELO never recorded, something that's quite deliberate. It's a fine, upbeat song that shines in part due to the wonderful keyboards that blend with the bouncy guitar solo. A proper crown pleaser, I can see this one being a real hit in concert, though it's certainly got plenty of competition elsewhere to get on the set list. Final track before the title track reprise is one the band themselves are VERY proud of, 'Bootleg Bandoleros'. At eight minutes it's the longest song here, but as with 'King Of The Stars' it at no point outstays it's welcome, telling the story of those who would nick creatives hard work, from the time when home taping was killing music to the seeders and downloaders of today. There's a South American feel to the flamenco acoustic guitar, giving way to electric at the three minutes forty mark, at which point the song gets a nice injection of energy though still isn't afraid of an introspective moment or two. Of course, there's a cool guitar solo, too, as well as a section for the crowd to stamp their feet and clap. This one's got it all, folks!
I thought that Cats In Space would find it hard to follow up the excellent 'Atlantis', but with 'Kickstart The Sun' they've actually surpassed it. An album that mixes emotion, storytelling, seriousness and simple fun equally well, resulting in a whole that works on a great many levels, musically. At it's heart, though, it's a Cats In Space album, and if you've ever enjoyed what they've put out before this is a must buy.