If you love somebody set them free....
Released May 2019
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.
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.
1. Brand New Day
2. Desert Rose
3. If You Love Somebody Set Them Free
4. Every Breath You Take
5. Demolition Man
6. Can't Stand Losing You
7. Fields Of Gold
8. So Lonely
9. Shape Of My Heart
10. Message In A Bottle
12. Walking On The Moon
13. Englishman In New York
14. If I Ever Lose My Faith In You
15. Roxanne (Live)
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".