Review: Cats In Space – Diamonds The Best Of
Harmony Factory (September 10th 2021)
Reviewer: David Pearce
Cats in Space have been around for 6 years and are on their third lead singer. We’re not into Spinal Tap drummer territory but I would be keeping an eye open if I was Damien Edwards! Seriously though, every album they have made and every tour they have been on has just increased their reputation as the true standard bearers of the classic 70s sound.
With Paul Manzi for the first three albums, Mark Pascall for the ‘My Kind of Christmas‘ album, and Edwards for ‘Atlantis‘, they have been blessed with three powerhouse singers. Each of them added to the Cats reputation and made the original albums their own with their talent. ‘Diamonds The Best Of‘ is their first greatest hits collection, but it is primarily designed as a showcase for Edwards with whom the group have recorded all of the chosen tracks from the first three albums. Pascall had a similar introduction on a smaller scale when he recorded ‘Chasing Diamonds‘, ‘September Rain‘ and ‘Yesterday’s News‘ for the Christmas album. With more people coming aboard the spaceship, every time they tour and release a new album, Diamonds is their way of introducing themselves to new Cats fans without alienating their longer standing admirers.
‘Too Many Gods‘ was the song that introduced the Cats to me when I first saw them on the Rising Stage at the Ramblin’ Man Festival in 2016. The title track of their first album, it is a sardonic take on religion as seen through the eyes of unbeliever. The re-recorded track sounds very similar to the original sung by Manzi, but he sung it with a twinkle in his voice. Edwards on the other hand has a grittier texture to the vocals that can tip over into anger and frustration with the whole facade. ‘Silver and Gold‘ comes from the third album ‘Day Trip to Narnia‘, my personal favourite of theirs. It takes a humorous look at the 70s heyday of glam and contains laugh out loud lyrics that Edwards delivers brilliantly with a sly wink in his voice.
‘Chasing Diamonds‘, again from ‘Day Trip to Narnia‘, is a gorgeous ballad that Edwards does real justice to. It’s funny, listening to it in its third incarnation, as each of the three singers has done a brilliant job of putting across my favourite Cats song, but I have to say that the combination of power, musicality, and emotional depth that Edwards has means that his is now the definitive version to my ears. There were times when his performance just sent shivers up my spine and brought out the true emotion of this incredible track. ‘Mr Heartache‘ is the second track from ‘Too Many Gods‘ that Edwards just nails with a different style to the original. He and Manzi are both steeped in the music of the era, but where Manzi tended, vocally, towards the glam bands like Sweet, I see Edwards as a perfect fit for ELO with their more theatrical approach. ‘Thunder in the Night‘ takes us to the story of Johnny Rocket from ‘Side 2’ of ‘Day Trip to Narnia‘. It’s a disco stomp that is fresh, exciting and brilliant in Edward’s hands as he is clearly having a blast.
At this point I really must mention the sheer brilliance of the musicians in Cats in Space who have provided the perfect platform for three very different vocalists in a variety of musical styles. So, take a bow, Greg Hart and Dean Howard on lead guitars, Jeff Brown on bass, Andy Stewart on piano and synths and last but by no means least drummer Stevi Bacon. They are consummate musicians in every way, and in Hart and Mick Wilson they have two main songwriters with an unerring ear for a brilliant tune. If there was the slightest hint of a weak link, the mixture of fun and seriousness that the Cats display wouldn’t work, but every single part of the Cats puzzle fits together perfectly.
‘Scars‘ is the first song from’ Scarecrow‘, the Cats second album, and it is a song that really shows off Edwards range from soft, sensitive verses that swell into a chorus that is anthemic and heartfelt. ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ may be a familiar saying, but in Edwards hands it serves as a statement of intent for himself and the rest of this experienced and determined group. ‘Hologram Man‘ is a justifiably angry sideswipe at the cynical and unethical use of holograms to ensure that dead pop stars keep making money. Edwards seems even more displeased with the whole circus than Manzi was, and he doesn’t waste the verses’ cynicism but it’s the chorus when he really lets his anger rip. It’s a great performance that channels his inner Freddie! We’re back to ‘Scarecrow‘ next for the title track of that album which has a real stadium filling vibe in the style of Toto or Kansas and Edwards’ voice shows that, when they are finally touring again, the Cats have a lead singer that can fill any stadium up to and including Wembley!
‘2.59‘ is the third track from Scarecrow‘ and it’s a tour de force of vocal range which showcases some brilliant backing vocals that really lift the song into the stratosphere. ‘Last Man Standing‘ is a track that, perhaps more than any other on the ‘Too Many Gods‘ album, showed the direction that the Cats were going to go in. It’s a musical mash up between ELO and Queen that just leaves you with a smile on your face every time you hear it. Edwards is clearly enjoying this track immensely as are the rest of the group. I mean, you can almost hear them grinning throughout this feelgood masterpiece!
The next three songs are from ‘Atlantis‘, Edwards’ debut album with the Cats. If you haven’t heard the album the quality of the three songs will definitely send you back to rediscover the whole album. Suffice it to say, ‘I Fell out of Love with Rock ‘n’ Roll‘, ‘Listen to the Radio‘ and ‘Revolution‘ were three of the tracks that took your breath away on the original album which I was lucky enough to review for Rockposer Dot Com! last year.
The final track is fan favourite ‘The Greatest Story Never Told‘ from ‘Too Many Gods‘. It is a 7 minute epic that Edwards inhabits in a way that totally makes the song his own. His voice is deeper than Manzi’s which seems to suit the Innuendo style changes of tune, tempo and style, and it’s as if the song was written for him. To be completely honest, it was never my favourite track, but it is now way further up my list because of this version which has a power that is liable to blow you away at various points.
The final track encapsulates the way the group gels on this album. The musicians are in synch with each other, providing a perfect base for Damien Edwards to let rip and together they make every track sound as fresh as a daisy. It is a greatest hits album that simultaneously pays tribute to what makes Cats in Space special, but also completely redefines it. It is an awesome achievement from first to last and should set the Cats up for their next stage as a band who will once again show that they are one of the best live acts in the business.