Part of being one of those people who still insists upon writing about music is keeping up with new releases. That used to be a lot of fun back when all you had to do was, you know, go to a record store on Tuesdays. Nowadays, Tuesdays are meaningless in the music business, as is PAYING FOR MUSIC, but, even so, Sting's new album did not escape my watchful eyes.
See, I'm always on the lookout for anything that seems the least bit suspicious and, lemme tell you, the sight of Sting standing in the middle of a New York street with luscious, heaping handfuls of brown hair and a $2500 John Varvatos leather jacket set off a few alarms.
The album, 57th and 9th, is the long overdue return to rock for an artist who last tried to lull us asleep with, first, an album of lute music, and then with his ambitious stab at Broadway via "The Last Ship", More power to him, of course. He's proven since Dream of The Blue Turtles and breaking up the Police at the height of their popularity that he is free to do whatever the bloody hell he wants, but less and less of that has spoken to me or the millions of others who still went along for the ride anyway.
The release of this album tells us that this sentiment has finally reached The Ivory Tower and that Lord Sumner of Rockingham has finally seen fit to record the proper follow-up to The Police's Synchronicity that his surviving fans had almost given up on ever hearing.
I say surviving fans because, let's face it, none of us are getting any younger, the least of which being Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland, whose talents could have been used to wonderful results here because, dagnabbit, this material is right in their wheel-house.
Ah, but Sting obviously felt more comfortable using members of the "Milquetoast Militia" (Dominic Miller, Vinnie Colaiuta, and Lyle Workman in addition to Josh Freese, whose youthful exuberance is his main selling point, and the Last Bandoleros.
And, even though this is a rock project meant to return Sting to the relevance of his heyday, the ever-esoteric Police-man couldn't help sticking in some Turkish zither. Sigh.
"I Can't Stop Thinking About You" borrows heavily from "Message In A Bottle" that I half expect to see Sting sue himself before all is said and done. As listenable as it may be, hearing it makes this longtime Police fan wish Andy & Stew could have been involved.
"50,000" slows down U2's "Out Of Control" before the bottom falls out, allowing Sting's lower vocal range to dabble in Tom Waits-ian introspection. And then, BOOM, Big chorus strangely reminiscent of "Synchronicity II".
By "Down, Down, Down", the jazz-lite inflections begin creeping in and the themes become drenched in vanilla-based cliches.
I mean, does a title like "One Fine Day" fill you with any confidence that the song contained therein won't be a sappy string of well-worn romantic cliches meant for the closing credits of a third-rate rom-com? And when it winds up living up to your most jaded rom-com soundtrack cliches, it's not a horrible tune, by any stretch. If anything, it's just a song arriving 20 years too late to serve much of any purpose to anyone.
And therein lies the crux of Sting's musical existence, which, near as this writer can tell, has been run with the savvy of a marketing campaign with very little actual heart behind it for far too long.
In other words, "Give the people what they want" has not been a part of Sting's vocabulary.
So to see Sting put his Police hat back on without the other two members seems disingenuous, as if he wants all the Pro's that come with doing so, but none of the Con's that create the very tension that creates the many Pro's in the first place.
Now, see, I'm rambling now because, quite frankly, I'm afraid to listen to the album any further. I've read the credits, I know there is Turkish zither on the horizon, just waiting to jump out at me and try to sell me on the idea of a Sting Turkish zither album for Christmas 2017.
"Pretty Young Soldier" begins with an unconvincingly psychedelic (think Harrison, not Hendrix) guitar riff that soon gives way to one of my least favorite Sting characters, "The Storyteller".
"Petrol Head" digs in a little deeper, letting fly with a rootsier guitar lick, but the whole thing sounds like Sting asking Dominic Miller to be Buddy Miller when the guy he wants would probably work for less and inject more than enough heart into the sessions for three albums.
By the time you reach "Heading South On The Great North Road" and "If You Can't Love me", you'll probably have that same sneaky feeling as I that this album is now heading into the proverbial "seventh inning stretch".
Don't worry, he's got a big surprise for the fans to close out the record: a slowed-down live version of "Next To You" with The Last Bandoleros, who, it just so happens, will be joining Sting on his tour to promote this album.
So there's that to look forward to, I guess.
As for how this new Sting effort stacks up against the rest of his solo discography, the fact that he top-loaded it with his first real attempts at rock music since the '80s makes it his best solo effort by default, as I have yet to ever reach back for one of Sting's old solo album, yet I drag out Police albums all the time.
Whether you'll be pulling out 57th and 9th beyond the first two or three spins is something that only time will tell.