The Dream Of The Blue Turtles (1985)
If You Love Somebody Set Them Free/Love Is The Seventh Wave/Russians/Children's Crusade/Shadows In The Rain/We Work The Black Seam/Consider Me Gone/The Dream Of The Blue Turtles/Moon Over Bourbon Street/Fortress Around Your Heart
Only seven years after launching himself as a punk with The Police’s rough and ready debut album, Sting was putting this out, his debut solo album. A very “adult” piece of work it was too - full of jazz and laid-back vibes. The sound quality on this album is outstanding. It has crystal clear percussion, saxophone and a nice, warm bass. It is a genuine pleasure to listen to. At the time his many punk/new wave fans pretty much disowned him upon this album's release, amid complaints that he had "lost it" and become "pretentious/full of himself" and the like.
If You Love Somebody Set Them Free is an upbeat piece of pulsating jazzy, soulful rock. It is somewhat more rock-ish than most of the album. Love Is The Seventh Wave is a rhythmic, reggae-tinged lively number enhanced by some melodic South African-style saxophone. He even spoofs his Police hit Every Breath You Take at the end, with the line “every cake you bake”.
Russians meant well in its message at the time, but it sounds very naive, simplistic and dated now. Children's Crusades is in a similar, admirable anti-war vein, it is very moving and evocative, both lyrically and musically.
Shadows In The Rain has a strange intro, but once it gets going it sounds like a jazzy working of a Police song. It is upbeat, lively and impressively played. Consider Me Gone is a sumptuous, laid-back slice of jazz/blues with an impressive vocal. Great saxophone in it too. Very atmospheric and entrancing. It gets very upbeat and vibrant at the end, drum-wise.
We Work The Black Seam is a moving, topical song about the decline of the coal mining industry set against an infectious slowly rhythmic beat and a beautiful saxophone floating in and out. The Dream Of The Blue Turtles is a minute or so of jazzy piano and captivating bass. A mood track, that’s all. It gets you ready for the next one, which is a good one. Moon Over Bourbon Street is just wonderful. Jazzy and atmospheric with tango and classical influences and Branford Marsalis’s delicious saxophone. Sting’s vocal is ideal for this material. Quality. Great lyrics too - “the brim of my hat hides the eye of a beast…”. Sting was/is a much underrated lyricist.
The album ends with the slightly Japanese-sounding Fortress Around Your Heart (at the beginning). It is backed with the by now ubiquitous melodic bass. Half way through a big, kicking drum beat launches in and it sounds more like a Police in their later-era song. Either way it is great closer to what was a decidedly impressive debut solo album.
Nothing Like The Sun (1987)
The Lazarus Heart/Be Still My Beating Heart/Englishman In New York/History Will Teach Us Nothing/They Dance Alone/Fragile/We'll Be Together/Straight To My Heart/Rock Steady/Sister Moon/Little Wing/The Secret Marriage
This, for me, is one of Sting’s finest albums. It is another in the jazzy style of his debut solo album, The Dream Of The Blue Turtles. The musicianship and sound quality on it is absolutely outstanding. I will not have anyone laying into Sting when he produces music like this. The album is a joy from beginning to end.
The Lazarus Heart kicks off with world-music influenced percussion, sumptuous jazzy saxophone, great bass and one of those delightful rhythmic vibes to it that Sting was now specialising in. A lot of Paul Simon influences abound on many of Sting’s albums. They are certainly here, muscially and lyrically. Be Still My Beating Heart is another gloriously atmospheric song, with a captivating vocal and bass line. The whole vibe on this album is excellent. Englishman In New York is the best-known track on the album. It is a good one, full of atmosphere and impossibly catchy, as most people know.
History Will Teach Us Nothing has both a magnificent, brooding, bassy reggae-tinged backing and one hell of a message. That feeling continues into the next track. They Dance Alone with its distinctive Andean pipe backing and sumptuous saxophone is a marvellously captivating, emotive song concerning human rights abuses in Chile. The refrain is beautiful. This is one of Sting’s most meaningful songs, in my opinion. Criticise him if you must, not the motivation or message behind songs like this. Just check out the plaintive, emotional beauty of Fragile for further justification.
We'll Be Together is one of the album’s more upbeat, catchy songs, with a vibrant brass backing, punchy sound and some almost sampling bits. It is almost a Sting “dance number”. Straight To My Heart is a slightly Latin-influenced, syncopated rhythmic number that has echoes of Paul Simon’s Rhythm Of The Saints album in its backing. Like that album, this track is similarly appealing. Simon's album, however, was recorded two years later, so maybe this one influenced that. Rock Steady is a fun, lively, loose jazzy number that sees Sting sounding vaguely like Rod Stewart in his throaty delivery.
Sister Moon is an absolutely delicious slice of late-night jazzy fare. Sting’s voice is smoky, but sliky smooth and strangely comforting. The jazz brass backing and solid, resonant stand-up jazz bass adds to the song’s intoxicating atmosphere. The line “My mistress’s eyes are nothing like the sun” comes from a Shakespeare sonnet, I believe. Sting says it was bizarrely and surprisingly quoted to him one night by a drunk, an incident which inspired the writing of the song. This is another number that can be offered up as an answer to those who dismiss Sting. This is quality material. No question.
Little Wing has Sting sounding like Rod Stewart again, strangely. The Secret Marriage is a piano and vocal, comparatively low-key (but pleasant enough) end to a seriously good album.
Photo © Karen Kuehn
The Soul Cages (1991)
Island Of Lost Souls/All This Time/Mad About You/Jeremiah Blues (Part 1)/Why Should I Cry For You?/Saint Agnes And The Burning Train/The Wild Wild Sea/The Soul Cages/When The Angels Fall
This is a truly excellent album, possibly one of Sting’s best. It deals, loosely, after the passing of Sting’s father, with his life and also the lives of others growing up in Northumberland in the early part of the twentieth century - the shipyards, the fishing industry the way of life, the religion. The music is excellent too, immaculately played, with a great sound quality.
In Island Of Lost Souls is contained the heart of this album, from the haunting Northumbrian pipes that open the song, through the subtle orchestration and crystal clear percussion to Sting’s mournful vocal concerning the history of the Newcastle shipyards. People can lay into Sting as much they like, but a song like this is a beautiful, sensitive and historically relevant song. It is a superb creation. Top marks. Despite its tragic tale, it is always a thoroughly rewarding listen. “A Newcastle ship without coals - they would sail to the island of souls….”.
All This Time is the most catchy and upbeat song on the album, with a singalong refrain and a sort of Deacon Blue feel to it. It is also another one to have Paul Simon vibes about it. Mad About You has another captivating rhythm to it and a gently reassuring vocal.
Jeremiah Blues (Part 1) is a big, thumping upbeat mid-pace rock song, with (as the title suggests) a blues influence. It is one of the most rocking tracks on the album. Why Should I Cry For You is a deep, sonorous Paul Simon-influenced number with yet more enticing atmosphere. Sting’s voice is once again truly outstanding on here - sensual and expressive. The backing vocals are impressive too and when the drums kick in it has a huge, dignified power. Another outstanding track.
Saint Agnes And The Burning Train is a beautiful, Spanish guitar-led short instrumental. It is simply lovely. The Wild Wild Sea is a moving lament of a narrative tale about loss at sea underpinned by some excellent bass and cymbals. The Soul Cages has a solid, muscular rock beat and is one of the best cuts on the album. A lot of the material on this album is considerably more accessible than popularly thought. It has a lovely saxophone break in it too.
When The Angels Fall is a lengthy, slow and evocative number, dealing with Catholicism and other religious beliefs. Despite its seven minutes, it never outstays its welcome. It is smoothly appealing. This has been a most enjoyable, meaningful, thoughtful and beautifully created album. Highly recommended.
Ten Summoner's Tales (1993)
If I Ever Lose My Faith In You/Love Is Stronger Than Justice/Fields Of Gold/Heavy Cloud No Rain/She's Too Good For Me/Seven Days/Saint Augustine In Hell/It's Probably Me/Everybody Laughed But You/Shape Of My Heart/Something The Boy Said/Epilogue (Nothing 'Bout Me)
This is a perfectly-crafted, fully realised album from Sting. For many it is his best. I have other favourites of his but it is certainly a good one. It is simply great music - played by top quality musicians, with a soulful, sensitive delivery from an artist who attracts undeserved criticism, in my opinion. These are quality songs and the album is a very pleasurable one. The sound quality on it is superb, too.
If I Ever Lose My Faith In You is a perfect opener, catchy, slow-burning. immaculately played with great sound. Love Is Stronger Than Justice is a Springsteen-esque song, lyrically, with a rocking country-ish beat and some excellent bluesy guitar and organ interjections throughout. The track rocks, convincingly. There is an excellent bass, piano and drum interplay at the end too. The stand out track is, of course, the stunning, sublime, incredibly moving Fields Of Gold. The vocal delivery is outstanding, as is the acoustic guitar, keyboards and Northumbrian pipes backing. A strong contender for Sting’s best ever song.
Heavy Cloud No Rain is a deliciously bassy, pulsating, bluesy number. She's Too Good For Me is also bluesy, but fast, breakneck blues this time. Seven Days returns to a more typical, mournful-sounding Sting sound and thoughtful lyrics.
Saint Augustine In Hell is a shuffling, funky jazz number that rides on an effortless groove with a strong, gruff vocal. The strange spoken vocal bit half way through, however, is completely incongruous and bizarre, but it kicks back into a great organ break, thankfully. It's Probably Me (co-written with Eric Clapton) has some delicious jazzy saxophone and an entrancing, syncopated slow rhythm. The bass is subtly beautifu too. Sting’s vocal is laid-back and suited to the song. Everybody Laughed But You is a solid, bassy and jazzy in parts laid-back number, with a Spanish-sounding acoustic guitar underpinning it too, and a great solo piece. There is a convincing soulfulness to Sting’s voice on this one.
Shape Of My Heart is another slow and soulful number, with a captivating percussion sound. Something The Boy Said has a captivating, deep bass line and a soulful laid-back, vaguely haunting melody, backed by some lovely saxophone. Epilogue (Nothing 'Bout Me) is a deliciously jazzy, lively number to end the album on. A most enjoyable listen.
If On A Winter's Night (2009)
Gabriel's Message/Soul Cake/There Is No Rose Of Such Virtue/The Snow it Melts The Soonest/Christmas At Sea/Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming/Cold Song/The Burning Babe/Now Winter Comes Slowly/The Hounds Of Winter/Balulalow/Cherry Tree Carol/Lullaby For An Anxious Child/Hurdy Gurdy Man/You Only Cross My Mind In Winter
Released on the Deutsche Grammophon classical label, this is a Christmas/winter album with a difference. I love it. For me, I am eternally thankful that it doesn't contain any US 1950's crooning material, or any well-known traditional carols, for that matter. It is an evocative, haunting, poetic and highly atmospheric selection of seasonally appropriate songs, delivered by Sting and assorted top quality musicians (Chris Botti, David Sancious, David Mansfield and Lisa Fischer among many others) in a loose folky style from his house in Tuscany. Sting's voice is excellent and ideally suited to the quiet material and there are several captivating instrumental passages, particularly the Northumbrian pipes played by Kathryn Tickell.
There is some direct Christmas-themed stuff in the lovely Gabriel's Message and Cherry Tree Carol but also some unusual folk songs like the infectious Soul Cake, Christmas At Sea and Balulalow. There is also a re-recording of Hounds Of Winter from the Mercury Falling album. Personally this has now become the first "Christmas" album that I play every year, usually after a week or so of December. It is a gentle, low-key and very enjoyable listen on a dark winter's night. I have to say that it is very sombre, almost bleak in its sparse sound, and certainly will not appeal to 90% of the population, but if you are not the "party" type and wish to enjoy your festive music in a discerning, understated, folky fashion, then I can highly recommend this. It is part of every December in my house. It has an excellent cover too.
Live In Berlin (2010)
If I Ever Lose My Faith In You/Englishman In New York/Fields Of Gold/Why Should I Cry For You?/All Would Envy/Tomorrow We'll See/The End Of The Game/Whenever I Say Your Name/Shape Of My Heart/Moon Over Bourbon Street/Mad About You/King Of Pain/Desert Rose/Fragile
I was pleasantly surprised by this live album. I had been concerned that the presence of The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra would over-orchestrate the sound - too many strings, not enough bass, guitar and drums. This is actually not the case at all. Although there is not a conventional rock band backing Sting, there is a solid bass, rhythmic percussion, keyboards and intermittent saxophone throughout the album. It is certainly not a case of Sting singing his songs against a predominantly orchestral backing. Well-known tracks such as If I Ever Lose My Faith In You, Englishman In New York and Fields Of Gold are performed recognisably. Yes there is additional orchestration, but it doesn't turn them into new tracks. The orchestra blends perfectly with Sting and his musicians. There is more obvious influence from the orchestra on later tracks, but it certainly never overwhelms Sting. It subtly augments the songs.
There are tracks where the orchestra really comes into its own, though, and interacts beautifully with Sting and the bass/percussion. The bass sound, rhythm and gentle guitar are beautiful on this moving song. One such number is the evocative The End Of The Game. Tomorrow We'll See and All Would Envy are similarly impressive. Whenever I Say Your Name is wonderful too, with excellent additional lead vocals from Jo Lawry and some sumptuous Branford Marsalis saxophone (the kind Sting loves to use).
Why Should I Cry For You? is hauntingly beautiful and Shape Of My Heart features some delicious Spanish-style acoustic guitar and a subtle backing from the orchestra. The jazzy Moon Over Bourbon Street is given an interesting new makeover to be about Sting being followed by a vampire in New Orleans' French Quarter, with additional instrumental atmospheric sound effects. Mad About You is chock full of superb inventive instrumentation. The Police's King Of Pain does not suffer for the additional orchestration, it is delivered just as powerfully. There is a convincing case to be made for this version being the better one. The Eastern-influenced Desert Rose is also mightily impressive. Fragile is as good as it always is.
The whole album is a triumph, for me. Eminently listenable. Great sound quality too.
57th & 9th (2016)
I Can't Stop Thinking About You/50,000/Down, Down, Down/One Fine Day/Pretty Young Soldier/Petrol Head/Heading South On The Great North Road/If You Can't Love Me/Inshallah/The Empty Chair
After dabbling in classical music with Symphonicities and writing a musical in The Last Ship, Sting returned to his more recognisable style of laid-back, sometimes slightly jazzy rock/pop with this appealing album. The street intersection of the title refers to the roads he crossed in New York City on his way to the studio he recorded this album in.
I Can't Stop Thinking About You is an upbeat, riffy rocker that wouldn't have sounded out of place on either of The Police's last three albums. 50,000 is even more riffy in its beginning, before it delivers a quiet verse based on Sting's reactions to the passing of Prince and David Bowie. The chorus comes blasting back in, anthemically. It is a most atmospheric, evocative number. Down, Down, Down also has a very Police-esque guitar line underpinning it, together with a nostalgic-sounding chorus.
One Fine Day is another very typically Sting piece of pop/rock. Solid and muscular. Pretty Young Soldier is a strange, homoerotic historically-based song, while the chunky Petrol Head has some heavy passages and some echoes of Bruce Springsteen in places. Heading South On The Great North Road is an acoustic, folky tale reflecting Sting's North-Eastern roots. If You Can't Love Me is slightly messy in its structure, with a paranoid vocal. Maybe it grows on you, but I find its chorus part a bit discordant.
Inshallah is a peaceful, seductively rhythmic number and The Empty Chair is a Celtic-influenced folk lament to end this short but interesting album. It is a sensitively-constructed work whose sometimes introspective feel demands several listens.
44/876/Morning Is Coming/Waiting For The Break Of Day/Gotta Get Back My Baby/Don't Make Me Wait/Just One Lifetime/22nd Street/Dreaming In The USA/Crooked Tree/To Love And Be Loved/Sad Trombone/Night Shift
This is an odd, surprising coupling from two artists whose halcyon days are behind them (66 year-old Sting and 50 year-old Shaggy). Maybe is is not so much of a shock, though Sting has always liked his reggae, from those credible early Police cuts and Shaggy has also like to extend himself soulfully beyond mere ragga-style toasting. I have come to this album a year late and was sceptical when I first saw it, but upon first listen I was proved wrong. It is quite an endearing offering and well worth a listen. It functions both as a good contemporary reggae album and also a good Sting album. The artists blend pleasingly well together without any awkward self-consciousness. It all sounds quite effortlessly easy.
44/876 refers to the international dialling codes for the UK and Jamaica and is a quirky, fun and poppy number that sees both singers performing in their typical style. They merge quite well, although, for me, the bass sound is overpowering (and I love bass), but that is just the way of the contemporary genre. It is actually the only track where this happens, though. Morning Is Coming has a less booming bass sound, some archetypally Sting tenor saxophone backing and more great vocals from both of them. Waiting For The Break Of Day is an infectious Sting-dominated track that could easily be included on any of his other albums. Shaggy still has a vocal part, though, and it doesn't sound out of place. Personally, I find the sound production ideal on this one, in comparison to 44/876. Lovely, rumbling, melodic bass on it. Gotta Get Back My Baby has Shaggy singing more than toasting and he is pretty good, his vocals croaky and soulful.
Don't Make Me Wait is a lovely, summery, laid-back groove full of the feel of a Jamaican resort on a hot afternoon. Sting's voice on this is superb, as good as it has sounded for a long time. He sounds quite revitalised by this, coming across as if he is really enjoying himself. Just One Lifetime is a ragga cut with typical Shaggy vocals and rhythm. One would expect that Sting's arrival with his "Ten Summoner's Tales" delivery would just not fit in, but it is the opposite, it merges perfectly on another addictive pop/ragga number. 22nd Street is a crooning, atmospheric, late-night Sting song enhanced by Shaggy. The strength of this album can be summed up in these two songs - the former a ragga song augmented by Sting, the latter a Sting song lifted higher by Shaggy. They do this really well.
Dreaming In The USA could, at times, be a Police song in its musical construction, although its lyrics are somewhat cheesy and superficial. It is infuriatingly catchy, however. Crooked Tree has Shaggy singing with a Buju Banton growl on a Sting folky, narrative song about a historical criminal's court appearance. It could easily be from his Last Ship album. The mood returns to a lively one on the poppy reggae of To Love And Be Loved, which is another intoxicating, appealing number. Sad Trombone is a jazzy, very Sting song and one that would fit easily on to any of his solo albums. Night Shift is yet another really good song. This is up there with the best of Sting's solo output, for me. Stick it on a "Best Of Sting" playlist and it certainly would not sound out of place.
This is a highly recommended album, there is not a bad track on it.
My Songs (2019)
Brand New Day/Desert Rose/If You Love Somebody Set Them Free/Every Breath You Take/Demolition Man/Can't Stand Losing You/Fields Of Gold/So Lonely/Shape Of My Heart/Message In A Bottle/Fragile/Walking On The Moon/Englishman In New York/If I Ever Lose My Faith In You/Roxanne (Live)
After a surprisingly enjoyable and credible duet album with ragga singer Shaggy in 2018, Sting's next release, in 2019, is a collection of new interpretations of some of his songs from both his solo career and The Police. I am usually sceptical about such experiments, being of the view that you can't usually beat the originals, that are often so heavily embedded in your consciousness that re-workings of them often seem like a violation. Paul Simon did it recently on In The Blue Light, although his choice of songs was considerably more "deep cut" than Sting's. Van Morrison has done it too on both Duets and You're Driving Me Crazy. Mary Chapin Carpenter made her songs sound as if they were from a movie soundtrack. Sting has "previous" in this field as well, with 2010's orchestral re-workings, Symphonicities.
Sting has explained his motivation for doing this project thus:-
"...Some of them (the songs) reconstructed, some of them refitted, some of them reframed, and all of them with a contemporary focus..."
So, there you have it, he is trying to make songs that in some cases are over forty years old more accessible and acceptable, musically, to today's younger generation. The most pertinent line in his quote is, of course, "contemporary focus". Not to put too fine a point on it, that means a huge, bassy, thumping backing is seemingly going to be nailed on to each track. Whether a subtle, musically intricate and lyrically sensitive song like Brand New Day needs a pounding bass boom beat to make it more appealing is certainly questionable. Similarly, If You Love Somebody Set Them Free is a great song anyway. The mix here reminds me of one of those "12" remixes" that would appear as a bonus track on "deluxe remasters", where the original song has a sledgehammer, dance-ish beat put on it, along with some layered backing vocals. I do like the Eastern instrumentation added to Desert Rose, though. That is a good new incarnation. As the album progresses, though, the deep backing of Brand New Day does not prove to be a signpost for the whole album. It is certainly not all simply sticking hip/hop levels of bass backing on everything.
The always creepy Every Breath You Take is actually not changed too much. Demolition Man has some excellent guitar and a muscular "oomph". Viewed completely impartially, I have to say I quite like this one. Can't Stand Losing You is great, this new version has a bassy, sometimes dubby vibe that the old tinny-ish single lacked. Sting's voice has also, significantly, lost none of its power or character over the years. Now, Fields Of Gold. Everyone surely accepts the original as a work of beauty that needs no tinkering with. To my relief, however, I find this version live up to the demands of the wonderful song without over-bassing it. There is some subtle Celtic pipe backing and a crystal clear acoustic guitar and Sting's voice is as evocative as the song dictates it should be.
I always loved the white reggae groove of So Lonely and that original skank has not been abandoned here, neither has its powerful chorus part. This is a song I know back to front, but I have to say I do not feel to affronted by this reading of it. It has a magnificent, throbbing but melodic bass line on it, which is actually more than welcome. You know, I'm really enjoying this.
Shape Of My Heart has the same bright acoustic backing that it always did, but it now has an extra deep backing thump that makes it sound a bit like something from Santana's Supernatural. It has always been a lovely song, and it still is. Message In A Bottle has a refreshing, lively re-doing, with another sonorous but still appealing bass line. Yes, it can be argued, convincingly, that there is little point in re-recording such familiar songs, but, as I listen to this, I tend to treat it more as if I am listening to a live concert recording of it and therefore find myself able to enjoy it for what it is.
Fragile is simply a gorgeous song that doesn't need much tinkering, but, again, using the "live recording" theory, I have derived considerable satisfaction from the rendering, particularly the sublime Spanish-style guitar. Walking On The Moon has not lost its dubby vibe and sounds pretty consistent with the original. It now has better sound quality, you have to concede. Englishman In New York, thankfully, retains its soprano saxophone (I am not sure if it is still Branford Marsalis on it, only having the download with no access to musician information). This is another track that has not changed too much. If I Ever Lose My Faith In You features a Springsteen-esque bit of harmonica and is another one that I find myself really warming to.
From an initial position of ambiguity towards this project, I have to say I have really enjoyed listening to it. So there you go. It worked, I guess. Whether this experiment will win Sting a whole host of new teen/twenty-something fans is highly debatable. Most who listen to this will probably gnarled old veterans like me.
** PS. The live versions that appear on the "deluxe edition" are all excellent too - Synchronicity II; Next To You; Spirits In The Material World and Fragile.
My Songs Live (2019)
The new live recordings that are available here form a relatively short companion release to May 2019's My Songs album in which Sting re-recorded some of his most well-known songs. They are included as part of of a new, second, "deluxe edition". The original album is still part of it.
The slightly different interpretations he gave to the songs are continued here on their live incarnations. Only eleven new live songs are included, though, although the live CD lasts fifty-two minutes due to quite a few of them being around the five-minute mark in length. The other five live cuts that appear at the end (after Fragile) were included on the deluxe edition of the original album release.
As always with Sting's live work, the musicians employed are of the highest quality (as indeed is the sound). The tracks are taken from various concerts, something that becomes clear as you hear Sting address the audience in German and later Italian. However, it has a flow to it that makes it feel like a single show. It is an enjoyable listen but not particularly essential.
Highlights are the jazzy strains of Englishman In New York, the Police classics Message In A Bottle and So Lonely (enhanced by a great Stevie Wonder-ish harmonica solo) and interesting interpretations of the slightly less "box office" numbers in the atmospheric King Of Pain, Seven Days and the Eastern-influenced Desert Rose. There are is some inventive and clever instrumentation on these cuts. Seven Days, however, I have long found to be a bit stop/start and lacking in cohesion. It is certainly so on here.
Russians, although its heart is in the right place, sounds even cornier than it did back in the eighties, but Fragile is as evocative as it ever was. Brand New Day has a beguiling appeal to it. I have always liked The Police's Wrapped Around Your Finger too. Its slightly dubby reggae tinges are done well. No matter how many times I hear Every Breath You Take I will always find it somewhat creepy, evoking visions of Sting lurking outside someone's house, watching them.
Basically, if you like Sting's music then you will enjoy this and consider it worth owning, if you don't like him or think he should have retired or whatever, then you will probably moan about it. It's as simple as that.