Yusuf/Cat Stevens’ forthcoming album The Laughing Apple — the pop-folk artist’s first full-length since 2014 — combines three new songs with eight re-recorded versions of cuts from throughout his career, including four takes on tracks off his second studio album, 1967’s New Masters. (Yusuf originally recorded an incomplete take of the album’s “You Can Do (Whatever)” for the 1970 film Harold and Maude, but finished it for Apple.) As demonstrated by Apple‘s fresh interpretation of his vintage cut “Blackness of the Night,” which EW is excited to premiere below, Yusuf’s timeless songwriting still yields plenty of surprises.
“‘Blackness of the Night’ was one of my first protest songs for the ’60s,” Yusuf, 69, tells EW in a statement about the track. “Growing up in London after the war, the memories were strong and bombed ruins still riddled the city. ‘Blackness of the Night’ also reflected the feeling of emptiness wandering the streets at night alone, pondering how to survive in a dark unknown future.”
Yusuf’s 2017 version of the cut eschews the original’s orchestral strings and woodwinds for a warm mix of acoustic guitar, mellow keyboard, and reserved drums — an arrangement inspired by Procol Harum, one of his “all-time favorite bands.” But he didn’t just want to release a new version of the track for instrumental purposes. “It’s got a lot of relativity to the situation of many refugee kids today, lost and abandoned, finding themselves separated from their families and homes in a hostile world,” Yusuf says.
He also created an illustration to accompany the new version of “Blackness,” which features a character inspired by his grandson, Muhammad Sulayman. “He was born on the same day as me and has a lot of angsty, insecurity issues too,” Yusuf explains. “The Fez hat he is wearing is pretty out of date, so it fits the character of the ‘outsider.'”
The Laughing Apple arrives Sept. 15. Hear Yusuf’s new take on “Blackness of the Night” and see its accompanying artwork above.