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Class ?

Main Category: Singer-Songwriters
Also applicable: Pop Rock, Jazz Rock
Starting Period: The Divided Eighties
Also active in: From Grunge To The Present Day



Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Sting fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Sting fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Year Of Release: 1985

The profound Sting aficionado would probably select The Soul Cages or Ten Summoner's Tales as the man's best album, but I find this to be the man's most adequate work, and also the perfect cross between his Police stand and whatever would come next. Maybe there's not enough 'spiritual depth' to be found in these songs, but then again, there are some who could question if Sting ever had any spiritual depth. Ah well, never mind.

What matters is that this is a direct continuation of the Synchronicity line, drawing Sting ever so closer to adult contemporary but never really crossing that line. In fact, it's hard to define the exact style of this record: 'jazz-dream-synth-pop' or something like that would probably give a few hints at the man's agenda. Free from the clutches of his old band, now fully in command of the proceedings, Sting hires himself some professional jazz musicians (from the Marsalis band, mainly), yet only two or three songs on here are straightforward 'jazz' or 'jazz-rock'. There's atmospheric synth landscapes, too, as well as reggae and just apparent pop-rock. It's pretty diverse, in other words, and definitely not devoid of energy at all.

The most amazing thing is that it's actually not devoid of hooks either. With a record like this, you'd expect atmosphere to fully take over - but Sting, at least in the first half of the Eighties, was never 'spiritually profound' enough to wave an unrepentant goodbye to catchy vocal melodies and eyebrow-raising instrumental twists. The songs here aren't supposed to blow your mind, of course, and probably won't, unless you're one of 'em pretentious romantic people who prefer listening to Sting late in the night sitting on the balcony of their villa looking out towards a beautiful Swiss lake, with a glass of red wine or two. But surprisingly, they do stick in your head after a while - and that means they can't be hopeless! Out of all the songs, for some reason only the anti-war/anti-drugs/anti-establishment, etc. tirade 'Children's Crusade' never ever stuck out for me, and I haven't been able to detect any true creativity over there. Maybe the song is a bit too pompous for such a low-key arrangement, I dunno.

But the rest of the material is totally swell, and shows that contrary to rumours, Sting didn't lose it that quickly after 1983 (unless you think he lost it before 1983, or unless you think he never had it in the first place). 'If You Need Somebody Set Them Free', continuing the self-tormenting line of 'Driven To Tears' and 'O My God', only this time directing it onto the plane of personal relations, is one hell of a jazz-poppy opener, energetic, mildly bitter - I'd even say 'edgy' - and with a chorus that may be highly repetitive, but if there ever was a master of repetition on this planet, that would be Mr Ex-Cop. The goofy reggae piece of joy, 'Love Is The Seventh Wave', seems to have earned a lot of flack from even the fans of this album, but I'm not one of them - again, I find the song catchy and hilarious, in a reggae-meets-European carnival style, and it's fun how Sting takes himself down a couple of pegs by mocking 'Every Breath You Take' at the end: 'every cake you bake, every leg you break...'. Goofy.

Of course, at this time of writing 'Russians' sounds incredibly dumb and dated, and it's not like it sounded a lot more intelligent at the time of writing (yeah, I realize that Cold War propaganda might have brainwashed some people into not believing that 'the Russians love their children too', but c'mon, 1985 was the year when the ice actually started to melt, wasn't it? Aren't you a tad late with your comment, Mr Sting? Whatever). But I won't deny that the synth arrangement for the track, made almost Depeche Mode-style, is really intriguing, with all the heavy Gothic landscapes and ticking bombs and suchlike. Besides, such is the world we live in that no-one can guarantee the song won't ever become actual again, right?

The next six songs, though (after 'Children's Crusade'), are pretty much immaculate. The fast jazz reworking of 'Shadows In The Rain' isn't superior to the original; it's just vastly different (actually, if rumours are to be believed, this jazz version was the original, turned down by the rest of the Police), and again, the band musters all the energy it can find in store, with great keyboard and brass work from everybody. 'We Work The Black Seam' is thrice as thrilling and scary as 'Russians', as it deals with far more biting matters, and it arguably has the greatest moment on the album - that's when Sting switches to the chorus, moodily chanting (or should I say "breathing"? Sting doesn't sing, he breathes!) "we work the black seam... together", set to this unnerving chiming rhythm. It's one of the best attempts to convey the feeling of utter desperation and hopelessness in the man's entire catalog.

Then 'Consider Me Gone' gives us a cute light jazz number, easy on the ear and heavy on the heart; the title track is a bit of avantgarde-fusion fiddling about for a minute or so; 'Moon Over Bourbon Street' would, to tell you the truth, be much better were it sung by Tom Waits (it's just THAT kind of guy's material), and should by all means pass its 'classic' status on to something like 'We Work The Black Seam' instead, but it's still immaculately produced and sung as far as Sting is able to cope with that kind of New Orleanian material; and 'Fortress Around Your Heart' surely belongs in the same set of "proto-adult-contemporary" classics as the 'Wrapped Around Your Finger/King Of Pain/Tea In The Sahar' string on Synchronicity. Funny how you don't really expect that bombastic chorus - it breaks in all of a sudden, just when you start to think it's another hookless moody mess.

Now if you're really really cautious of solo Sting, but like Synchronicity anyway, just don't be afraid to give this one a try. It's only the beginning of Sting's evolution from what he was then to what he is now. There was a long way to go.



Year Of Release: 1987

Yeah! Nothing like a slow-moving, melody-devoid, elevator-mood-setting record by everybody's favourite Sting(k)ster! He's gone and done it, making the subtle but still violent transition from the adult-contemporary-pop of Synchronicity and Blue Turtles to the adult-contemporary-poop of this record. This is the kind of record that all those trying-to-look-so-romantic Penthouse models are swearing by, I guess: 'My favourite pastime: on a full moon night, looking at the stars with a glass of brandy while Sting is softly playing in the background...'. Something like that.

But wait a minute - that's my theoretic condemnation of this album. When you get down to looking at, like, the actual songs, it's nowhere near that bad. First, Sting is still backed by a decent band, this time with whassisname (Manu Katche?) on the drums and slick-jazz-master Branford Marsalis helping out on sax. Means there's actually some real high quality music playin', even if it's real high quality elevator muzak. Second, he huffs and he puffs and he throws out a whole heap of a whole lotta interesting lyrics - like, hey, you might hate the guts of 'Rock Steady', for instance, but you gotta admit that Sting's hilarious take on The Great Flood is worth at least browsing through the lyrics sheet. Third, look, he's just too good a songwriter to completely steer clear of hooks and melodies in one go, no matter how hard he tries (and it does look to me like he's intentionally trying to get rid of 'em. Tell me, what's up with people like Sting and Clapton consciously trying to reduce their music to crap? Knowing that they're reducing their music to crap? Whassup with people these days?).

So in the end, the only song that really offends the living daylights out of me is 'Fragile', and I guess that's personal, but I simply can't stand that kind of weather channel muzak with that annoying, annoying, irritating, stupid stupid stupid elevator-flamenco guitarwork. I know in 1987 that kind of stuff wasn't so nauseating as it is today, but I personally hold Sting responsible for introducing that sound to the masses so that it is now available in a million different varieties and still sounds the same and stinks to high heaven. If you like this song, don't you ever knock on my door, mister.

On the other side of the extreme is the only "upbeat" song Sting recorded for the album, which is 'We'll Be Together', slapped onto the album at the last moment when the record company insisted they should have at least something with hit single potential. Often despised in Sting fan circles as too sell-outish, it is, in fact, quite good, a synthetic cheerful funkster getting along on the basis of the guy's personal charisma (yep, don't deny it, such a thing as "Sting charisma" actually exists, no matter what 'em knowing guys say). But it stands totally at odds with everything else on the album.

The other hit was 'Englishman In New York', which is Sting developing the light-boppy-jazz approach of 'Moon Over Bourbon Street' and crossing it with a little bit of Paul Simonesque hyperactivity - as well as a surprising boom-boom-boom electronic drum solo in the middle the meaning of which I can't for the life of me figure out; my best guess is simply that Sting wanted a little bit of surprise thrown in to catch the listener totally off guard. In any case, the song is decent and relatively unpretentious, at least, as far as the arrangement is concerned.

BUT! Then there's the rest of this album. With a sound deeper than a desert well, with funky bass, mood-setting minimalist guitars, delicate touches of inoffensive ear-caressing jazz sax, and defyingly unhuman-sounding (even if human-played) Eighties drums, and, uh, whatever you'd like to call a melody. Normally, I find traces of melody in Sting's singing here, but you may prefer the sax. Or the drums. Whatever. 'The Lazarus Heart' and 'Be Still My Beating Heart' are the two huge monsters that set the tone, with well-structured verses and practically non-existing choruses (not surprising, since by now Sting was so much of a lyrics man he had to fit in a ton of verses, leaving no time for a big chorus); personally, I favor the former and dislike the latter apart from that shivery opening keyboard riff - the coolest part, unfortunately, lost way too soon.

I guess there's something good (or bad) to be said about such ponderous epics as 'History Will Teach Us Nothing' and 'They Dance Alone' as well, but I've already said everything that needs to be said in the previous paragraph. They can be good when you're in the mood, but since I'm rarely in the mood, I have yet to find them good. So let's just skip to the two final songs. 'Sister Moon', I guess, is exactly the kind of song I meant when talking about Penthouse models; passable as mood music, but totally dismissable as an attempt at something serious, because this is just pushing generic romantic formula to a ridiculous extreme. One more step and you're in Celine Dion territory. 'Tea In The Sahara' did a very similar thing and did it with a necessary amount of restraint. However, the cover of 'Little Wing' is surprisingly decent - I shivered at the very thought of Sting trying on a Hendrix song, but he doesn't try to do it Hendrix-style (only at the very end do they play something vaguely reminiscent of the original Hendrix guitar solo); he does it Sting-style, with modest orchestration courtesy of Gil Evans, and as Sting-style it sounds okay. At least - not parodic or anything.

All in all, certainly far from the chap's worst album, but unfortunately, this is where the rut permanently sinks in. I guess we could call this stuff "influential", but its only influence has been negative, spurring on millions and millions of these trashy elevator muzak releases. So it's better to keep quiet about its influences, and just sit back, enjoy the good half, dismiss the bad half as so-so background music, and pretend it's the only album of its kind on the planet.


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