January 2, 2023

Who can deny the appeal of a band like Cats In Space? These are guys who have spent their whole lives in music, professional sidemen to all the stars you’ve heard of, honing their craft to slick perfection, but who have somehow, (perhaps by their own choice), slipped through the net of fame themselves. Now they have gathered to play what they want to play and produce what they want to produce, and the results have been astonishing. Their task is not to bring something new into the world, but to recall  the past and resurrect the nostalgic tones of the music we grew up with, from the glam beats of dance floors past to the bombastic pomp of dinosaur rock. And they are just so damn good at it; their flowing rock god locks may be grey or thinning, but the medallions are still bright. Kickstart The Sun is their fifth full studio offering (not counting their Christmas mini-album in 2019), and they have pulled out all the stops all the way, then gone back and pulled them all out a little bit more. At 63 minutes, they are billing it as a double album, which is available on vinyl in a variety of colours, and also on CD with a 10-track bonus disk.

The title track comes and goes throughout the set; it opens the album, but in limited form as a one-minute demonstration of pin-sharp tight, massed harmony vocals with swathes of warm reverb, before fading away as the seven-minute real opener begins: King Of Stars is an up-tempo melodic rocker with driving drums, powerful guitars and twinkling piano. A Barnum-style announcement as of a strolling show kicks in after another minute, adding to the gravitas of a massive sci-fi rock number. Poke The Witch includes some really neat harmony guitar work, as well as a section of heavily-effected vocals that hark back to 1980s ELO.

Behold – The Cats

The grandiose sci-fi and fantasy take a back seat to the screaming engines and police sirens of Teenage Millionaires, which could be taken straight from the Journey songbook, and then the intensity is alleviated a little with the ballad intro of Goodbye To The American Dream, opening with vocals over a mellow electric piano. A surprise here too, as we hear the horn section for the first time; (we will hear strings and some guest instruments and vocals too, as the album progresses). The band’s influences start raining down thick and fast now, with some beautiful Boston harmony guitars in the ballad 1,000,000 Miles, which goes very Queen during the solo; some jangly electric 12-string à la Jim McGuinn of The Byrds in Fifty-One Pillow Bed, and a glam pop wall of sound, with masses of harmony guitar backings, in Charlie’s Ego.

The full, epic version of the title track, Kickstart The Sun, is basically just vocals and piano for the first couple of minutes, before its complex layering takes it back into Boston territory – although the deep chord structure seems to me to take its queue from The Carpenters. In a complete change of emphasis, the jauntily-titled A Big Balloon drops into jolly pop, with acoustic backing guitars and a melody line highly reminiscent of Renaissance’s Northern Lights.

And so it goes – the remaining tracks drift back and forth between hair metal, ELO, Queen, and the glam bands of distant history, all varnished with an astonishing level of production care and skill. Just in case we thought they had shot every bolt at their disposal, they leave it until now to present the excellent Bootleg Bandoleros, which stretches to well over eight minutes and features an answer-back guitar duo, (cor! When did we last hear one of those?) and some foot-stomping beats from a room full of fans who were hanging at the studio. The title track returns for a last hurrah at the end, a reprise that builds to a huge, anthemic album climax.

I make no secret of my admiration for the skill, ambitious scope and sheer musical bravado of the Cats – they are all about the same age as me, and their unashamed references to the pop and rock of our shared youth transports me back to the hot, dark ballrooms of holiday camps long gone; I can almost hear the video games bleeping away in the background. But they also treat these references with a light touch of glint-eyed humour, when it could so easily be stiff and starchy. I will make one tiny gripe though: inevitably, with all this heavy production, maybe the surface is just a little too smooth – some more grime and grit in the mix, a couple of stripped-down numbers, would have added some extra shape and colour in my opinion. That’s a difficult call to make though; the boys quite clearly set out to make this the best they could possibly make, and it would be tragic to leave a couple of bits half-done, so everything is full-on, even more so than usual. And that doesn’t only apply to the music; the superb, sci-fi cartoon artwork manages to be both futuristic and retro at the same time, which is also a great description of the band. So keep on rocking guys, I’m still loving it.