Al Stewart – Year Of The Cat

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  • A stunning Shootout Winning copy and the first Triple Triple (A+++) to hit the site in years
  • This killer pressing knocked out everything we could throw at it on both sides
  • With engineering by Alan Parsons, the best pressings are every bit the Audiophile Demo Discs you remember
  • The best sides have Tubey Magical acoustic guitars, sweet vocals, huge amounts of space, breathtaking transparency, and so much more
  • Allmusic 4 1/2 stars: “A tremendous example of how good self-conscious progressive pop can be, given the right producer and songwriter — and if you’re a fan of either prog or pop and haven’t given Al Stewart much thought, prepare to be enchanted.”

Stunning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from beginning to end. This album can sound really wonderful (what else would you expect from an Alan Parson’s production?), but the typical pressings just can’t bring it to life. This one is a HUGE step up, miles away from the gritty, almost unlistenable copies we hear so often.

What amazing sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1976
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

True Audiophile Demo Disc Sound

Let me tell you, when this album sounds as bad as most copies do, the music just doesn’t work. Many copies have a nasty layer of grit on the vocals which is positively painful.

Most of the copies we cleaned and played for our shootouts were just junk. We kept asking ourselves “Where is the Famous Alan Parsons’ Dark Side of the Moon Magic that’s supposed to be on this record?” Year of the Cat was THE Demo Disc in every stereo store in town when it came out back in the day, but we could not find any correlation between that fact and the sound we were hearing on copy after copy.

Ah, but the better pressings are every bit the True Audiophile Demo Discs you remember. It wasn’t all a dream. It was real. Rich acoustic guitars, Tubey Magical sweetness on the vocals, ambience around everything and everyone, huge amounts of space revealed by breathtaking transparency, top and bottom extension — all this and more can be heard on the best sides.

What We Listen For on Year of the Cat

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt — the legendary Alan Parsons in this case — would have put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Lord Grenville
On the Border
Midas Shadow
Sand in Your Shoes
If It Doesn’t Come Naturally, Leave It 

Side Two

Flying Sorcery
Broadway Hotel
One Stage Before
Year of the Cat

AMG  Review

Al Stewart had found his voice on Past, Present & Future and found his sound on Modern Times. He then perfected it all on 1976’s Year of the Cat, arguably his masterpiece.

There is no overarching theme here, as there was on its two immediate predecessors, but the impossible lushness of Alan Parsons’ production and Stewart’s evocative Continental narratives give the record a welcome feeling of cohesion that keeps the record enchanting as it moves from “Lord Grenville” to “Midas Shadow” to “Broadway Hotel,” before it ends with the haunting title track.

Along the way, Stewart doesn’t dwell too deeply in any area, preferring to trace out mysteries with his evocative lyrical imagery and a spinning array of self-consciously sophisticated music, songs that evoke American and European folk and pop with a deliberate grace. This could be unbearably precious if it didn’t work so well. Stewart is detached from his music, but only in the sense that he gives this album a stylish elegance, and Parsons is his perfect foil, giving the music a rich, panoramic sweep that mimics Stewart’s globe-trotting songs.

The result is a tremendous example of how good self-conscious progressive pop can be, given the right producer and songwriter — and if you’re a fan of either prog or pop and haven’t given Al Stewart much thought, prepare to be enchanted.

The MoFi

If you own the typical MoFi version of this album you happen to own one of the All Time Mastering Disasters of the modern era. Ridiculously boosted at both ends, their version is all but unlistenable on a high end stereo.

Some copies are worse than others, so we are conservatively giving MoFi’s pressing a sonic grade of D. We’ve played some in the past that clearly deserved an F (F as in Failing), but we also once played one that sounded pretty good. If you’ve played half a dozen MoFi copies and plucked out the best one, yours might be good too. If you haven’t heard a bunch, chances are slim that yours is any better than awful. There’s only one way to tell of course, and that’s to pull it off the shelf and give it a spin. You may be shocked at just how hyped-up it has gotten since the last time you heard it.

If you play your records back on an old console, with maybe a blown woofer or two, okay, I can see how the sound of the MoFi might work. But I’m guessing most of you have something better than that, and since you do, one of our Hot Stamper pressings will absolutely positively blow your mind, showing you the real Year of the Cat. We guarantee it.