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


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