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.
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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