Cat Empire, The - Steal the Light

I first heard the album The Cat Empire some time in 2004. It sounded vastly different to anything I had ever heard. I remember being overrun by a sense of intrigue at the melting pot of genres the band embodied and just wanted to dance. At a time when it seemed Australian music was headed for the rocks, The Cat Empire gave my ears an exciting refuge. They had a certain groove that just felt good.

During 2009, when I spent the year in the Middle East, The Cat Empire became my imperative connection with home. Their lyrics sang of places I had been the years before and the Cat Empire sound became synonymous with many of the things I loved about Melbourne. Despite being over 10,000km away when I listened to their music I felt as if I was very much at home.

When I listen to their music these days, I momentarily step into a time machine. Songs like The Wine Song, send me back to nights spent listening to the Cat Empire in overcrowded, humid Middle Eastern bars. I can’t shake the feeling of being in pubs filled with moustached gentlemen, shrouded in a thick haze of shisha smoke. After having waited five years, I was flooded with excitement when I first listened to steal the Light; a sincere disappointment was what followed.

The album opens strongly with ‘Brighter Than Gold’. It’s percussive, melodically in your face and quintessentially Cat Empire. As with all good Cat Empire Songs Felix’s vocals are soft, demure yet emotive. The track is a really strong opening and leaves the listener excited to hear what is to come. However this excitement is only temporary. The second Track ‘Prophets In The Sky’ opens with a squealing trumpet solo, a sound The Cat Empire has almost branded, then descends into banality. The track on the whole is unstimulating, when listening in my car I often found myself involuntarily skipping the track.

Lyrically the album continues down a path of blandness, my most sincere disappointment. However it seems that all is forgiven with the final track ‘All night loud’. It is without a doubt my favourite track of the album. For the Cat Empire it uncommonly minimalist with Felix’s vocal and basic synthesiser comprising the whole arrangement. Its reminiscent of tracks like Miserere in its emotive depth and style. Felix’s voice commands respect through his modesty and power. Whilst it could have carried for longer, the song is very much a track that can be played over and over.

Steal the Light is sadly very forgettable. It seems as if The Cat Empire are musically on their last legs. This could be attributed to their constant touring or perhaps a reflection of a band that have tried to maintain their original sound at the expense of innovation. Despite having produced two average albums in five years I will continue to support the musical ventures of The Cat Empire. Sometimes content of music is not what’s important; rather that places the music takes you and the way it makes you feel. Whilst it is unlikely that I will spend hours in future listening to Steal The Light, the time I have spent has reminded me why I love the band so much. I have a great deal of respect for a band that continues to stay true to their sound despite their overwhelming fame.
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