The Cat Empire
So Many Nights
First Appeared in The Music Box, April 2008, Volume 15, #4
Written by John Metzger
Thu April 24, 2008, 08:30 AM CDT
Based solely upon its first four tracks, The Cat Empireís latest effort So Many Nights not only builds magnificently upon the bandís American debut Two Shoes, but it also contains some of the most immediately engaging, dance-party music to be issued thus far in 2008. Sure, the title track, which opens the disc, contains a few moves that were plucked straight from Wilson Pickettís In the Midnight Hour and Isaac Hayesí Soul Man. Laced with disco strings, funky beats, and hip-hop grooves, however, the song succeeds in drawing a connection to the past without simply regurgitating it. Although the tempo slows for the subsequent tune, Panamaís gentle blend of warm, soulful elegance and dramatic, 5th Dimension-derived, pop-imbued sunshine serves as the perfect setup for the explosive, hip-shaking exuberance of Fishies. Rounding out this terrific sequence is Sunny Moon, during which The Cat Empire transplants Phish to the island shores of Cuba.
Unfortunately, although the rest of So Many Nights is good, none of it fares nearly as well as the albumís first few songs. At least, The Cat Empire seems to be aware of the issues with which it is wrestling. It brought veteran producer John Porter on board to help smooth over its eccentricities, and itís undeniable that the resulting endeavor is tighter and more cohesive than any of the bandís previous forays. At 56 minutes in length, however, So Many Nights also is too long for the group to succeed in maintaining its initial momentum.
At times, The Cat Empire revisits the Jamaican-influence that filtered through its early work (Til the Ocean Takes Us All and Lonely Moon); other moments (So Long, No Mountain) sound like lesser versions of So Many Nightsí opening tracks. Although the horns blast and blare while the strings either drip with Beatle-esque psychedelia or provide an aggressive shimmer to The Cat Empireís mirror-ball mayhem, the set still becomes bogged down in its mid-section. The pacing is all off-kilter, and the group appears to be struggling to develop a fresh batch of ideas.
Two-thirds of the way through So Many Nights, The Cat Empire finally finds a new sonic space to explore. The Darknessí ominous and eerie, Middle-Eastern-tinged textures stand in sharp contrast to the ensembleís typical sunbaked grooves, and its transition back to familiar ground ó which moves through the Doors-ian blues of Voodoo Cowboy ó provides a few intriguing twists and turns that should provide fodder for the groupís future projects. Itís obvious that The Cat Empire is experiencing some growing pains, but these might have been minimized had a few cuts been excised from the center of the collection. Either way, though, So Many Nights should be considered a transitional effort, albeit one that also happens to feature a handful of unforgettable songs.
So Many Nights is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box