This is album # 3 from British FM-rockers Cats In Space. When they released their debut album I thought that this was nothing but a project with a weird name – a name I first thought sucked bad – with a bunch of aging musicians from other bands that would last just one album and then disappear. But I was wrong. Thankfully. Because their debut album was brilliant. Totally unpredictable musically where AOR, Pomp Rock, Symphonic Rock, Classic Rock, Pop and Hard Rock met, Too Many Gods (2015) is an album that I still hold very dear and better yet, the follow-up Scarecrow (2017) was even better, even if it isn’t by much. So, today, almost four years after the release of the debut, I am not only a big fan of the band, I have also reappraised their name. Dammit, Cats In Space is a brilliant name. What was I thinking back in 2015? Well, the new album was longed-for on my part – and expectations are shooting for the sky.
With the new record, Cats In Space has decided to tell two different stories on the same record – a double rock opera of some sort. What the first part is about doesn’t take a rocket-scientist to figure out – it’s all in the album’s name. But ok, it’s not about the actual movie trilogy Narnia, it’s about the music business but with clear nods towards the movies. It’s all there – the magic closet, eternal winters, that kind of stuff. The second half – am I the only one who’s thinking vinyl here? You know, side one, side two? – is about a guy named Johnny Rocket who dreams about being an astronaut. When he falls in love with a girl at a discotheque, he promises to return to her and marry her as soon he gets back from the moon. But will he ever return? Yes, I can clearly see that the stories halts when you put it in short so it’s better to listen to the lyrics and decide for yourself. What’s clear though is that this is a pretty hefty project.
Opener “Narnia” is a mid-paced but upbeat mix of AOR and pomp-rock 70’s style that also brings on an arrangement good enough for a musical. It’s a brilliant tune and a killer opener with a slight Queen influence and a refrain that’s enormously catchy. The uptempo “She Talks Too Much” brings on a pompous, early 80’s AOR twist with a damn fine groove and a grand sound-scape. The tune holds influences from both 10 CC and ELO where the chorus is a bit rockier than the verses, rockier in a The Sweet kind of way. The guitar sound here is also obviously influenced by Brian May. But with its length of 1,5 minutes it’s way too short. It’s a killer track that ends too fast.
“Hologram Man” (the title itself reveals what this song’s about) is early 80’s AOR with a smell of the 70’s, a rockier outlook and a good punch. The late 60’s Beatles-like melodies marries fine with the Sweet-like twists and the chorus is ultra-catchy. Fantastic! “Tragic Alter Ego” is a rather pompous, pop-groovy Queen meets Supertramp rocker with another majestic sound-scape that holds symphonic undertones and an AOR-ish refrain that will never let go once it has grabbed you. It starts out in a mid pace but moves on in a faster pace and vocally it’s absolutely gorgeous. Awesome! “Silver And Gold” is pretty much a Pop song albeit with some symphonic undertones. It’s pretty laid-back in the verses but holds a more upbeat groove when the sticky refrain hits. Since it’s all about the golden age of 70’s glam, nostalgia in all its glory, it’s only fair that Andy Scott of The Sweet comes in and gives a helping hand in the vocal department.
“Chasing Diamonds” is a ballad on a soft note that gets bigger, pompous and bombastic along the way. It’s a gorgeous track with a pop-laden, AOR-smelling refrain that brings it close to power-balladry. Also, Paul Manzi totally nails this one vocally. Amazingly brilliant. The first part of the album closes (for CD-buyers or streamers it really don’t feel like any kind of closing track at all) with “Unicorn”, an upbeat Melodic Rock track that also brings on early 80’s AOR along with a more symphonic, Sweet influence and ELO also shows up in the backing-vocal parts. It also holds some fat, beefy guitar riffs on a groovy rhythm and the tune is pretty straight-forward. The striking refrain with lots of hooks and big melodies takes the tune to a home-run. Fan-bloody-tastic!
The second part, “The Story Of Johnny Rocket” begins with “Space Overture” which is just an intro, overblown and cinematic, that builds up an atmosphere before “Johnny Rocket” kicks off. It’s an uptempo track with a more Hard Rock approach, punchy and guitar-driven but with all the Cats In Space elements of late 70’s AOR and Pop-twists and a refrain to die for. It is also the album’s second single. It is followed by the album’s first single, the disco-rock driven pomp-rocker “Thunder In The Night”. This is where Johnny meets his future wife at said discotheque hence the disco-twists. It holds an upbeat groove and twists of both Pomp-rock and AOR wanders hand in hand during the song. Kiss’ “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”, ELO and The Night Flight Orchestra all rolled into one. Magnificent. “One Small Step” is a softer, laid-back ballad built on acoustic guitars, stripped and earthy. The a’capella intro is brilliant but the tune is somewhat dozy. It’s not a bad track but the rest of the songs are all so much better.
“Twilight” starts out just as soft and laid-back as its predecessor but it turns into an overblown and bombastic orchestrated and symphonic ballad, full of strings, lots of keyboards and acoustic guitars. Pompous in a musical-theatre kind of way, the tune comes out grandiose with a huge sound-scape, grand melodies and a terrific refrain. They also borrow some strophes from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom Of The Opera” for good measure. Fantastic! The balladry stays on with “Yesterday’s News”, very smooth and silky with a soft arrangement. Pink Floyd influenced melodies rubs shoulders with more sugary ones but is saved from cheesiness by the melancholy of the tune. Both a mandolin and a ukulele changes the dynamics as well. I can’t help but to love this! Closer “Destination Unknown” is more upbeat but very much a Pop song based on acoustic guitars on a somewhat laid-back note. Both 60’s and 70’s influences shows up and the sound is clean and smooth but never glutinous. Great.
Here’s the deal – this band should be huge by now – three close to perfect albums in a row – so hopefully people will wake up by the release of this record. I know there are people that are turned off by the use of the word AOR here but let’s make one thing clear, we’re talking about the kind of AOR that was manufactured in the late 70’s/early 80’s, not the AOR of the 2000’s – there’s a big difference there. Also, CIS brings along lots of genres – Pomp, Symphonic Rock, Classic Rock, Hard Rock, Pop which brings another dimension to their music. As musicians, these guys are all world-class and as song-writers they do know a killer hook when they hear one. I also get the feeling that their music would work splendidly live so I have my hopes up for a big tour now that the album is released. Sweden Rock Festival, do you hear me? Do yourself a favor and check this band out now if you haven’t already. And buy this record!
You can read the story of Johnny Rocket here.
More Cats In Space reviews:
2. She Talks Too Much
3. Hologram Man
4. Tragic Alter Ego
5. Silver And Gold
6. Chasing Diamonds
8. The Story Of Johnny Rocket – Space Overture
9. The Story Of Johnny Rocket – Johnny Rocket
10. The Story Of Johnny Rocket – Thunder In The Night
11. The Story Of Johnny Rocket – One Small Step
12. The Story Of Johnny Rocket – Twilight
13. The Story Of Johnny Rocket – Yesterday’s News
14. The Story Of Johnny Rocket – Destination Unknown