Friday, July 14, 2006

Sting: Before He Stunk

For those of you who can barely remember how bloody brilliant Gordon Matthew Sumner was before he turned into a utterly hopeless wanker somewhere in the mid-1990s, here's a quick refresher course. Note however that I'm only going to focus on his post-Police track record, so there will be no minute deconstruction of the allegorical lyricism of "King of Pain" or the power-play innuendoes of "Wrapped Around Your Finger".

An uneven, but competent enough debut that managed to spawn a lightweight hit single ("If You Love Somebody Set Them Free"), but more memorable for its ability to incorporate a mishmash of styles (New Orleans jazz in "Moon Over Bourbon Street"; cheery pseudo-reggae in "Love is the Seventh Wave", post-romantic classical in "Russians"). But the most striking track here has to be the solemn closer "Fortress Around Your Heart", an elegiac and metaphorical analysis of a dead romance.

With a title borrowed from Shakespeare, this sophomore effort has a musical foundation of Latin American-based grooves. This is especially, obviously prevalent in songs like "They Dance Alone", "Fragile", "History Will Teach Us Nothing" and "Straight to My Heart". Sting's most overtly political work (remember the hokey rainforest activism?), but also notable for an epic, nocturnal-cityscape makeover of Hendrix's "Little Wing".

3. THE SOUL CAGES (1991)
After a debilitating and protracted bout of writer's block, our favourite Geordie returns with an album inspired by his childhood in the Newcastle docklands. It's water, water everywhere, as Sting tells us tales of economically devastated fishing villages ("Island of Souls"), seaside burials ("All This Time"), shipwrecks ("The Wild Wild Sea"), and takes us to meet Davy Jones himself ("The Soul Cages"). However, all this talk about mortality does get a bit heavy-going after a while.

Now, this is more like it. A brightly coloured, light-hearted semi-parody of Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales", this twelve-track set (including a "Prologue" and an "Epilogue") pokes fun at almost everything, including spaghetti Westerns ("Love is Stronger Than Justice"), organised religion ("St. Augustine in Hell"), traditional images of bravura ("Seven Days"), and the battle of the sexes ("She's Too Good for Me"). However, there are moments of real virtuosity, like the nicely paced folk ballad "Fields of Gold", the unrequited-love anecdote "It's Probably Me" and the haunting morality tale "Shape of My Heart".

After "Ten Summoner's Tales", Sting's career trajectory took a loopy turn and went into a tailspin with the awfully, drearily grey "Mercury Falling", the inane world-music showcase "Brand New Day" and the insanely forced "Sacred Love". He has never recovered since.


Post a Comment

<< Home