CD: CATS in SPACE ‘Too Many Gods’ (Harmony Factory)

Remember a time when the release of an album by your favourite band was an Event? When rock albums were allowed to be diverse, to offer something different with each track rather than ten variations on one theme?  A time when they didn’t worry about the look, the image or about aiming for the right ‘demographic’? This album from new act CATS in SPACE might be what you’re looking for, the whole thing harks back to a time when musicians made the music they saw fit, not to fit in with a prevailing trend or conform to anyone’s strictly-defined genre description.

CATS in SPACE are a new band comprising some players who are far from new to the scene: the personnel involved have worked with many major names including 10cc, Asia, and The Sweet. Indeed, original guitarist from The Sweet Andy Scott appears as a guest musician on lead-off track ‘Mr Heartache’. The instigator of this project, guitarist and songwriter Greg Hart is an unapologetic devotee of 1970s music, and his aim with this project was to create an album in the style of acts such as ELO or Queen, with diverse, catchy songs and a complete ‘package’ with distinctive artwork. Greg’s regular gig is as guitarist in touring 1970s revival act ‘Supersonic 70s Show’ (also billed as ‘Solid Gold 70s’), alongside fellow CAT in SPACE, keyboardist Andy Stewart. Also involved in this album are vocalist Paul Manzi, bassist Jeff Brown, guitarist Dean Howard and drummer Steevi Bacon. All these guys have vast experience performing with well-known names and rather than list them all here, I suggest a quick look on the band’s own site to illustrate just what we’re dealing with here.

The band have gone to great lengths to make their album release the sort of big event that used to accompany releases from the likes of Electric Light Orchestra for example, even releasing the album on high-quality vinyl in a gatefold sleeve for those who want the complete 1970s experience. There are even CATS in SPACE slipmats available for your turntable, if you want to go that extra mile!  The gatefold sleeve is recreated in miniature form on the CD release too, featuring artwork (depicting some very nice space-suited cat ladies in an alien landscape) from artist Joanna Wenczka. If you do plump for the CD, there is a bonus track (‘Schoolyard Fantasy’) on that format.

When I sent for this album it arrived within a couple of days, and was instantly in my hi-fi. It is the sort of album you need to listen to as a complete whole, and one you should play several times to let everything sink in. Once you have heard it a few times, the influences that permeate the record are clear for all to hear but you’ll also appreciate just how much has gone into the production of ‘Too Many Gods’. It really is a lavishly-produced effort, and one that rewards a few repeated listens to uncover its many layers.

To go through it all track-by-track would take up most of my evening (!) but in brief, you’ll hear bits of Queen in the guitars and distinctly Sweet-style vocal harmonies on title track ‘Too Many Gods’, material that references such artists as John Miles (‘The Greatest Story Never Told’, the album’s centrepiece), the Eagles (‘Only In Vegas’) and ELO (‘Man In The Moon’). That is not to say that the songs are mere knock-offs of those artists; Greg Hart’s strength in songwriting is to take those elements, and reshape them his own way so that you hear something new, yet familiar.

One thing that isn’t so retro is the lyrical content; ‘Stop’ is a song pleading for more humanity in an increasingly computerised, dystopian 21st century (‘no-one is interacting, cold fingers on a plastic screen’), while ‘Five Minute Celebrity’ is a Who-style hard rocker dealing with the current trend for ‘instant stardom’ created off the back of reality TV shows (‘you got no talent, but you want the fame’). ‘Last Man Standing’ deals with the decline of London’s so-called ‘Tin Pan Alley’ as property developers move in and ‘regenerate’ the area, destroying what made it so special in the process. Another thing you’ll notice on listening to the album is that, despite the major talent involved, there is no ‘overplaying’ – guitar solos where used, are short and to the point. Other instruments such as piano or sax are used where appropriate and not to show off anybody’s virtuosity. In short, it’s all about the SONGS, not the players!

This is the sort of record that, had it been released in 1975, would be in your older brother’s collection alongside John Miles or Supertramp, and one that you’d be going back to again and again.In 2015 it is more of a niche market, but with that 21st century phenomenon the Internet it should still reach enough fans of this style of music to enable those CATS in SPACE to reach orbit.

‘Mr Heartache’ – CATS in SPACE

‘Last Man Standing’ – CATS in SPACE

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