The Cat Empire – Two Shoes

It’s only been a little over a year since The Cat Empire released their self-titled debut album; an album that impressed listeners with its fusion of jazz, latin and funk, crossed over to commercial audiences and has achieved close to double platinum sales. It’s not surprising then that the Melbourne six-piece had huge expectations to live up to with their next album. So they followed the smell of Cuban cigars and headed to Havana, Cuba to find some inspiration. They were there for a month, recording in Egrem Studios with UK producer Jerry Boys. The result is Two Shoes, an album that captures the band’s contagious energy and party spirit.

The first song on the album and also the first single release, Sly, continues where The Cat Empire left off on their last album. It has the same familiar funky bass lines, sexy trumpet, and Felix Reibl’s charismatic, pub singing vocals from Hello. While it doesn’t have the same punch of Hello, Sly’s energetic James Brown-funk rhythm will induce bums to wiggle.

The title track off the album is a tribute to Bob Marley’s music. It features Marley’s signature grooves as Felix sings about surviving life’s “cuts and bruises” by dancing and being a “man that no institutions can knock down”. The line, “On my feet are shoes for dancing, dancing to be free,” sums up the feel of the entire album. All the instruments have so much energy and freedom on this album that it gives the songs an extra dancing spirit. And while Felix and Harry Angus aren’t the strongest of singers on their own, Felix’s almost conversational singing and Harry’s characteristic whine, fits perfectly with the music.  

The party stops momentarily in the middle of the album and gets serious with Misere. It’s a poignant ballad driven by an underlying drum beat which replicates the beat of a heart. Felix takes the energy down considerably and weakly sings about the barefoot man on the street who has “a sign from his neck [that] said I do not exist”. The trumpet solo in the middle is as mournful as the Last Post that gets played on Anzac Day as the flag is lowered to remember the soldiers who died in Gallipoli. Felix says, “It may sound sad and desolate, but it’s a song that can move you and takes you somewhere else. Beauty is always linked to sadness and that’s what that song represents to me.” Thankfully, there is only one ballad on the album because, to their credit, they can write depressing songs well.

Although Felix says that the band “didn’t want to go over there and sound Cuban”, it’s hard not to see how much of an influence recording in Havana had on the album. In My Pocket is funked up salsa that conjures up images of dancing in a Cuban club, surrounded by faded Spanish colonial buildings. Sol y Sombra starts off as a cha cha and then transforms into a jazz piece, with a three-minute piano impro that sounds so live you feel as though you are actually sitting in a jazz bar, sipping on a cocktail and watching the guys play.

The band’s Australian humour is spread throughout the album. In The Car Song Harry sings about procrastinating in late high school, while being told by his parents: “Harry you’re gonna be a lawyer someday”. It has a Chuck Berry-esque rock rhythm as Harry sings, “Someday I’ll buy an old car. Someday I’ll get that car to start.” In Party Started, the guys show how they party by “chillin’ in the sun with tea and milk and honey. Tea and lamingtons that’s my idea of fun.” Protons, Neutrons, Electrons sounds like it’s been lifted from the comedy scene of a musical with its call and response and oom-pah piano rhythm. Harry belts out, “A man can change from a man to a woman and a woman can demand to be a man,” as the song gets closer to its climactic end.  

Two Shoes is fun, sexy and moving all at the same time. This album is a musical mardi gras through the seedy streets of Cuba with a stubbie and esky in tow.