We mostly accept side projects in music as a little additional undertaking by a musician to get out any ideas they have that they don’t feel fit with the sound or vibe of their central band. That is certainly the case with Cat’s Eyes, not just for Faris Badwan, the leader of British band The Horrors, but also for his partner in Cat’s Eyes Rachel Zeffira, an opera singer and multi-instrumentalist.
The album is only 28-minutes long, but it has ten tracks and a lot of different ideas. The best of these are when the duo seem to be entirely in sync, recreating American pop sounds of the 70s. Zeffira’s voice works greatly in the background on the sassy choruses of “Cat’s Eyes,” “Face in the Crowd,” and “Over You.”
Despite these upbeat numbers being their forte, they spend more time on the softer, more orchestrated, and altogether soppier numbers. With washes of strings and the possibilities of soaring choruses on the likes of “I’m Not Stupid” and “The Best Person I Know,” you’d think Zeffira’s capabilities as an operatic singer would be put to use here with a grand-standing vocal, but she keeps it low-key and sweet, which works well with the simple and self-deprecating lyrics (“I know I’m not the prettiest girl / I’m realistic” and “I’m not stupid / I can see that she’s better than me”). The lack of percussion gives these two songs in particular a beautifully weightless feel. However, as the album progresses and more numbers like “Bandit” and “Not a Friend” continue with this pattern, you can’t help feeling that Cat’s Eyes missed a chance to really use a strong vocal. Most or all of these could easily have been contributed by any number of current female indie rock stars.
Badwan also tries his hand at singing in a more operatic manner, but his attempt at a baritone to match the deep horns on “Sooner Or Later” sounds unimpressive. He has a better stab at it on “The Lull,” but the song comes off sounding like a poor brother to Spiritualized’s “Broken Heart.”
Instrumentally, every song here is impressive, but the singing is pushed to the fore on the majority in an attempt to instigate a hook, which is only occasionally successful. The interplay between the two voices has plenty of potential, shown on the fantastic pop numbers, but not exploited enough on the slower ones.
Cat’s Eyes is a worthy project, since both parties here evidently have a broad skill set and love of all kinds of music. This seems to both help and hinder the pair, since they have created a set of songs of several different styles, many of which are good and a couple of which are impressive, but there is no single direction and is quite inconsistent for a 28-minute album. There is plenty here to suggest that the Cat’s Eyes project would be worth returning to for both parties, but they’ll need more focus next time.