Category Archives: Sting

Mercury Falling – STING – 1996

Most rock musicians are full of muso-pretensions these days. Even the lowliest pop-punk people go for concept albums and intertwined narratives that serve as an excuse for them to serve their egos without alienating their base. The bolder among them choose to go further yet, hitting out as solo artists. While this is by no means an uncommon trend, it is uncommon for the solo artists to have much success outside the hinterland of the core audience. Cue the relatively average sales of the solo albums by the four members of Kiss, and, um how many of you have heard of Jon Lord or Billy Sheehan solo records?

Sting defined this trend by making his non-rock and pro-jazz ambitions clear early on with his solo recordings, moving away from the rock of The Police. He cornered the marked for smart, sophisticated, lyrical ­adult rock almost before the genre had come into existence. This has been heralded in its time as the one that marked his shift from jazzy pop to adult contemporary, whatever that means.

The album has its great moments, I’ll grant you. In “I Hung My Head”, the chorus and the main lyric kind of reminds me of “Boom di Yada”. It sounds quite African. “I Was Bought To My Senses” has exiguous intro of just voice and single note guitar playing, and later, Celtic violins. Its heartbreakingly beautiful, and though the rest of the song is great as well, it doesn’t really match up to that intro.

Having had some idea of Sting’s music first hand, without the hand-me-downs of television and YouTube’s maximum viewery, I can start to typify his sound with some confidence. It’s a sort of jazzy, intelligent, pop with a background in rock and world music. Yes, It’s seldom a good idea to try and pigeonhole an artist, but with two successive albums with a similar sound (Ten Summoner’s Tales and this), he asks for it.

It’s a sort of jazzy, intelligent, pop with a background in rock and world music

It’s not a bad thing, mind you, ‘cause there are only a few mainstream pop artists who can genuinely straddle commercial success while retaining an adventurousness of structure and orchestration. That said, I hope, as I listen to more of his albums, that he has , in the course of his career, tried to break out of even that. I’d love to hear a volte-face surprise in one of the following albums. Or maybe I’ll just experience an inexorable slide into Adult Contemporary Muzakdom. There are ominous signs on this one, with too many songs (“Valparasio” and “You Still Touch Me” and a few others) being overwrought and overorchestrated tosh that robs the good tunes that Sting is capable of their power. Low-Fi production, anyone? I hope so.

In general, the songs have slightly higher tempos in the songs and a more upbeat tone of voice, though the lyrics can suggest the exact opposite. Don’t make the mistake of considering the album totally consistent though. Attempts at uplifting lyrics and music feel a bit mawkish (“Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot”), though the ending has genuinely powerful gospel choir part.

The thing about this album is, it doesn’t seem to offer anything new. And therein lies the problem. There is one so much that you can flog a horse. This album is not as good as Ten Summoner’s Tales only because it followed on a template that is essentially not formulaic, and is softened a little bit. Though not really as bad as being a ‘set of B-sides of the last album’, which is usually reviewer-speak for a bad album, it’s still falls well short.

The album is rangy in its sprawl, and generally has more levity than Ten Summoner’s Tales, but it somehow lacks its energy and memorabilty. Also, its production veers uncomfortably towards easy listening. This doesn’t sound right.

- El Bajista


Ten Summoner’s Tales – STING – 1993

Sting is one of those artists you always know is successful, but unless you’re into his music, you don’t really see the success. There is not a lot of Lady Gaga in his career. Yet, the numbers speak for themselves. Wherefrom, then, does this steady-state success stem?

Frankly, I didn’t care. I was happy enough to stumble across the occasional “Desert Rose” or “Brand New Day” on the TV, and picked up the nice tunes and well thought out structures in the same unthinking way we pick up a pack of chips at the shops. But I had a friend pushing me along. He’s not an avid listener of music, but kept telling me about the virtues of “Fields of Gold” and god knows what else. I liked it when I heard it, but I was a different place then, and I decided I’d give Sting a proper stab with Ten Summoner’s Tales. And you know what? He’s awesome. I’ll say this sounds right about now. But if you really want to hear insightful commentary on why I think he’s awesome, read on!

Basslines always form a major component of Sting’s music (him being a bassist), but they don’t dominate, as most skilled bassists are wont to do. What he does is design the song around a bassline, but the song never scrimps on core attributes of writing a song like, oh I don’t know, songwriting. Arrangement is also always top notch, with extremely well chosen sounds and tones and instruments and all that. That, I believe, is the key to this man’s long-lasting career. Extremely balanced songs not overdoing anything. But then, he doesn’t underdo anything either. It puts him in an extremely comfortable position (some would say unambitiously midfield) between gutter grime and ­haute art.

This attitude continues in his lyrics. They’re always extremely well put together, and Sting’s very high vocal range helps too. One small caveat. Sometimes, he is making an extremely small point, but just expands it into an entire song. Sure, it’s genius in some songs such as “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You,” a song whose point is just that and nothing else. But it does get on a bit when he starts pushing it, such as in “She’s Too Good for Me”, the point of which again, is just that. But the rest is wonderful storytelling, and I’d like to single out “Love is Stronger than Justice”, also notable for its great half-time groove, lovely country-dance chorus and a jazzy piano solo.

Control of mood and pace is impeccable too, with a great distribution between toe tappers “Heavy Cloud (No Rain)”, and truly sensual (shout out to anonymous friend) “Fields of Gold”. Seriously, by this time, I’m finding it hard to point out things that I don’t like in this album.

I quite like that Sting doesn’t shy away from Jazz inflections and even dissonance in pop. It’s important for most rock bands today to understand. “St. Augustine in Hell” (which sort of starts like “Roundabout” by Yes) is such an example, augmented of course, with Stings customary storytelling skills, arrangements, basslines and that high-pitched voice. Quite a vocal range this man has.

Sting doesn’t shy away from Jazz inflections and even dissonance in pop

I won’t run you through the other (all) good tracks. They’re all great. So any faults? Um…well I could call it self-consciously pompous, in that it chooses to tackle weighty themes with weighty arrangements given a lot of weight in the recording weight. That said, I find that little criticism melting away, because the material is extremely well dealt with. What else? I would like a little bit more of a British accent in his singing. There is too (label infused?) much So-Cal in his inflections at times, and I do like a pleasant clippy-percussive British accent in singing.

Questionable facial hair- the secret to musical superpowers

If there is one judgment I can make of Sting from this one album, I’d be that he’s the thinking man’s pop star. You know where this is going. This sounds VERY right.

- El Bajista



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