Thursday, September 23, 2021

On Mr. Sting


There was a period from 1985 to 1993 where Sting could do no wrong in my eyes. 

I was a fan of the Police, but I loved the ground Sting covered with his solo albums even more. The Police records were a breath of fresh air in the late 70's, but by 1983, they felt like pollution. I grew tired of Stewart Copeland showing off. Though he often thrilled me behind the kit, he just as often made me wince with fills and crashes that tried too hard to make the songs all about him. I got off the Police bus when "The Dream Of The Blue Turtles" was released.

The drummers on Sting's solo records, Omar Hakim, Manu Katche and my personal favorite Vinnie Colaiuta, could amaze in much more subtle ways. But Sting's solo records during that period offered more than good musicianship. The songs were both accessible and daring. There were jazz chords and pop harmonies, funky bass lines and extended soloing, danceable rhythms and gorgeous melodies. 1993's "Ten Summoner's Tales" remains one of my favorite records of all time. And though it was fashionable then and even more so now to hate Sting, I did not. Not at all.

Then, it began. Each record starting with "Mercury Falling" became less interesting and Sting became more pretentious with concept albums featuring lutes and boats and symphonies and dolphins, and of course that whole tantric sex type thing. I was beginning to feel for those haters and was even prompted to say so in a short piece I had written for The Huffington Post called "Sting, Where Is Thy Death?" The piece is nothing more than a poorly written vehicle to use that title. But nonetheless, the well had been poisoned and I couldn't listen to the Sting records or The Police records I had loved. 

But then in 2016, Sting quietly returned to the pop world with "57th and 9th," and while it wasn't quite like the glory days of "The Soul Cages" and "Ten Summoner's Tales," there were no lutes or Mary J. Blige duets in earshot. It was a solid record with some great playing and more than a few memorable songs. It renewed my interest and once again I felt a need to defend the man.

But, the rekindling of the love affair did not last long, as the five years that followed featured a so-so collaboration with Shaggy, another reworking of his old songs called "My Songs," which Sting explains "is my life in songs. Some of them reconstructed, some of them refitted, some of them reframed, but all of them with a contemporary focus," and then a live "My Songs" which is really just a live album, isn't it? I mean, don't you usually play your songs in concert? What's the point of specifically calling it "My Songs Live" unless it was designed to annoy me.

That brings us up to date and a new track from Sting's November release, "The Bridge." 

"If It's Love," on first listen," seemed like a bit of nothing, with somewhat cringemaking lyrics and an arrangement that is just a bit too cute. But when I listened a second time, I minded it less. And by the third pass, I actually thought, "Sting could still write a pop song." And I think writing a good pop song will always keep me in your good graces.

Maybe a few of you are looking forward to "The Bridge" in November, while some of you are warming up in the bile pen. Either way, I am hoping "The Bridge" offers something to remind me why I was a fan back then and not more of what made me get off the bus.

Time to listen to "The Soul Cages" and "Ten Summoner's Tales."



Honest Ed said...

It's wee bit harsh to dismiss 'The Last Ship' as one of a string of concept albums about lutes and boats, no? It was the soundtrack to a play and, as a lad who grew up in the shadow of the Tyneside shipyards, I'm sure a musical about the death of shipbuilding on the Tyne was a very personal, passion project for him!

But, yeah, with you on the lutes.

Anonymous said...

It's amazing, isn't it, the way a song grabs on to you and takes hold the more you listen to it?


Sal Nunziato said...

Honest Ed,
"The Last Ship" was not a pop record. And while there were some lovely moments on "The Last Ship," I doubt his personal passion for the project holds any water with the haters.

Troy said...

Completely agree with you on his post-Police records, they were wonderful. And Mercury Falling was the beginning of the downfall. I didn't react as favorably to 57th and 9th as you did. Maybe I'll have to revisit that. And I always hold out a bit of hope that Sting puts out another good record.

cmealha said...

I was a big Police fan and still am. Also was into Sting's solo stuff at the beginning but I got off the bus a few stops before you did. It's been a while since anything Sting did, caught my attention but this cut made my ears perk up. Really good tune and I'll have to pay attention when the album comes out.

Anonymous said...

sounds kinds of Squeeze-ish, not a bad thing.

A Walk In The Woods said...

Nice. I'm surprised I don't recall you mentioning Sting/Police much on these pages. He needs some defending, 'cause he sho' is easy to hate, indeed!

But I too am in the Sting solo fan club, big time. Four notes along those lines:

- the Sting solo concert I saw in Atlanta on the "Dream of Blue Turtles" tour remains one of my favorite concerts ever

- there was a year in college when for some reason I only ever had ONE cassette in my car (CDs didn't exist yet), and it was his live album, "Bring On The Night." One of my favorite live records ever. That key year, when music matters most to a person, I listened to that tape over and over and over and over, and it always sounded fresh.

- You didn't mention "Nothing Like The Sun," but that's my Sting jam. Man I love that record.

- And Soul Cages - I remember he played Sat Night Live the week the Kuwait war broke out in 1990 or 1991. He knew we needed some light relief, and he opened with "All This Time," and I could feel the weight of the world lift. (I was worried at that time I might get drafted - 24 years old)

dogbreath said...

Thanks for the heads up. Sounds promising and bodes well for the new album. A mate insists on calling old Mr Sumner "Stung" (i.e. the past tense) but I think there's life in the old dog yet. Cheers!

Sal Nunziato said...

@ A Walk In The Woods,
I didn't mention "Nothing Like The Sun" by name, but it is absolutely included in the years I mention. Indeed, a great record.

Chris Collins said...

For whatever reason I returned big time to Sting's first 3 solo albums during the lockdown last year. Comfort food, reminder of a better time, who knows? But they really spoke to me all over again. "All This Time" never left my stable of favorite songs, but for a long time I was out the door. Just like you I did see and like "The Last Ship", but besides that I steered clear of all things Sting for a long time. But between my renewed interest in those first 3 albums and his (kind of delightful) appearance in "Only Murders In The Building", my door is open to Sting again. Looking forward to this album.

buzzbabyjesus said...

I know Sting's a talented musician and performer, but have always found him annoying somehow.

I'm surprised liking this new song first time hearing it. I admire the craft, musicality, and even his voice.

Anonymous said...

Back in the late 80s I had the opportunity to write some copy for an IRS Records catalogue. There was a section on the Police, of course, and I had written this about Sting:
He makes you dance. He makes you think. He’s the perfect man!

That copy was not included in the printed catalogue.


kevin m said...

Many years ago, Sharon Osbourne referred to him as "Lord Fucking Sting" and I think that pretty much sums it up since the mid 90s