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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sting's compositions here are multi-layered, soulful offerings from a master craftsman who clearly loves creating music. Never mind his supposed pretentions - the guy could knock out a tune in his sleep and is a most underrated lyricist. High quality instrumentation is all over this album - as always.
Brand New Day (2000)
This is a comparatively little-mentioned Sting album that, while betraying many familiar Sting-isms has a strong and varied world music ambience together with some contemporary backing sounds as well. It is more vibrant than its predecessor but, on reflection, I think I prefer the former’s subtle nuances.
A Thousand Years is one of those Sting-by-numbers, subtly rhythmic, world music-influenced sleepy grooves. There is a nice, deep bassy warmth to the sound that reflects contemporary musical trends. Desert Rose is the track that probably got the most airplay. This one is very influenced by Arabic-muslim West African-Sufi rhythms and is most seductive, sonically. Although Sting had been here before, in terms of influence, it still shows quite a radical departure in sound - quite different from those early jazzy influences. In fact, it is notable Algerian musician Cheb Mami who guests on the track.
Just as on the previous album, Sting dabbles in country on the immensely enjoyable and lively Fill Her Up and Ghost Story is one of those suitably ghostly and ethereal wintry-sounding songs that Sting does so well. Brand New Day has Stevie Wonder unmistakably guesting on harmonica on a shuffling, attractive end to an underrated album.
Sacred Love (2003)
Probably the least interesting of the three is this, which saw Sting using guest collaborators, Santana-style and, to a certain extent, sacrificing innovation for sonic perfection. The songs don't offer much deviation from the Sting blueprint, save the now-obligatory contemporary beats. It makes for impressive, effective mood music - dinner party fare. Is is still a pleasant enough listen. however.
The album was somewhat blighted by suffering from the 2000s affliction of being released in multiple versions and formats, something that detracts from its identity. I still don't know which version I have.
Inside is a typically shuffling Sting number of the type that has appeared on many albums while Send Your Love is an excellent, upbeat and bassy song, full of verve and vitality. Great percussion on it too along with those Arabic-style strings Sting likes to use. Whenever I Say Your Name is a nice slow number, enhanced by a guest vocal from Mary J. Blige. Dead Man's Rope has a soulful, deep ambience to it. Never Coming Home features some programmed, contemporary drum sounds and a nice, jazzy piano bit at the end. Stolen Car was the album's best known track, and it is a beguilingly rhythmic one as also is the enjoyable Forget About The Future, one I particularly like. Talking, as I was earlier, of Santana, This War starts with some very Carlos-esque fuzzy guitar and is one of Sting's rockiest tracks for a long while. The Book Of My Life is archetypal Sting once again with that North African percussion providing an attractive backbeat and Sacred Love is also instantly recognisable as Sting. Nothing wrong with this at all. You know what you're going to get and it duly delivers, it just doesn't push any boundaries.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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..."
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.
** 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.