THE BOSTON GLOBEOctober 01, 1987
The following article by Philip Booth appeared in an October 1987 issue of The Boston Globe newspaper...
"I see music in a very holistic way. I don't just listen to jazz. I don't just listen to classical music. I listen to everything. I think part of the thing that is wrong with music today is that it is very xenophobic. It just looks in on itself. Rock musicians rarely look outside of the genre. Jazz musicians, too, rarely look outside. There's this mistrust that goes on between the music forms, and I see the whole thing."
Sting, the prolific 36-year-old singer, songwriter, bassist, composer and film actor, is waxing on about the musical motivation behind 'Nothing Like The Sun', his second post-Police studio LP, set for release today.
"With the Police one of our main things we did was reggae, and we welded reggae with rock and roll, which made us famous, actually," Sting said last week from New York, midway through a series of auditions for touring musicians. "And I wanted to carry on that kind of cross-pollination."
Love - found, lost, life-affirming is at the core of 'Nothing Like The' Sun a lush, two-record set buoyed by engaging melodies, sophisticated lyrics and perhaps the most capable rock-fusion ensemble yet assembled.
Indeed, the Newcastle-born son of a milkman named his album after Shakespeare's Sonnet 130 and loaded the absorbing, 54 minute work with three songs that give title billing to affairs of the heart: 'The Lazarus Heart', about his relationship with his mother, who dies recently at 53; 'Be Still My Beating Heart' concerning the poignancy and pain of romance and 'Straight To My Heart' about endless love: "The only thing for me to do/Is to pledge myself to you."
Despite that priority, it's a political song, 'They Dance Alone', that may be the most affecting, profound moment. The seven minute ballad driven by rat-a-tat snare drum roll and eerie synthesiser swirls, centres on the women who mourn missing husbands and sons in Pinochet's Chile: "Dancing with the missing / Dancing with the dead / Dancing with the invisible ones / The anguish is unsaid."
"As a form of protest they dance this thing called the gueca, which is a traditional dance, and they do it alone; and they have the photographs of their loved ones pinned to them," Sting says. "I met some of these people when I toured last year with Amnesty and this image was very strong with me. The form of protest and the blend of grief and dignity they have, can't be bettered. It just seemed a way of magnifying what these women do, in a country like Chile, where democracy is a joke. I'm not going to change the regime in Chile through a song. I don't think the General listens to my records. I don't know. It's not throwing petrol bombs at the police or burning cars. It's something much more profound, you know, I think much deeper."
While 'Dream Of The Blue Turtles', Sting's 1985 debut solo album, was mostly pop and circumstances - radio-accessible hooks, heavy-handed lyrics and a nagging tentativeness reflective of Gordon Sumner's uneasiness without the usual Police net - Sting's newest work, recorded in May in Montserrat, is more expansive by half.
Sting gathered his 'Nothing Like the Sun' band - returnees Branford Marsalis on soprano saxophone, Kenny Kirkland on keyboards, Manu Katche, formerly of Peter Gabriel's band, and ex-Weather Report percussionist Mino Cinelu - with specific roles in mind.
This is no measured jam session. 'Nothing Like The Sun' brims with intriguing textures, from the pizzicato strings, and cocktail-lounge piano tinkles of 'Englishman In New York', to Gil Evans' brash big-band moves on Jimi Hendrix's 'Little Wing'; from the reggae repercussions of 'History Will Teach Us Nothing' to the inspired funkiness of 'We'll Be Together', the first single.
"It's less about a band, I would say, than the previous one," he explains. "The previous one is really a function of that - getting these musicians together and seeing what happened. This is much more controlled, in a sense, and it was about the songs. I layered it much more."
Adds Marsalis: "People are going to have to open their ears to like this one. There's some different stuff happening - real different. It's not jazz at all, but it has a lot of jazz concepts to it. I think, it's an incredibly hip record."
Sting also took the liberty of giving his newest work a concept, or rather three sides with three concepts and a trio of miscellaneous tracks.
"One side is very up, and very much, uh, 'fun' is the word, and I think the single would reflect that particular side. Another side is political, which I think is probably the best work and the other side is sort of in-between.
"'We'll be Together', kicked off, by Sting's bracing howl, and motored by a deep-funk synth-base line, bluesy organ snippets and a percolating, snap-back drum groove, is the closest to, authentic R&B achieved by the man whose meltdown of rock, reggae and world music served as the creative glue for pop's most successful trio.
"It's not representative of the album. I have to say. It was just a piece of fun that obviously was easy to get on the radio. I think for a first single that's the strategy, you know. The rest of the album is more serious and more moody."
'History Will Teach Us Nothing' - "Without freedom from the past / Things can only get worse and 'Fragile', inspired by the case of engineer Benjamin Linder, slain by contras in Nicaragua, are disturbing and thought-provoking. But big fun can also be had elsewhere on 'Nothing Like The Sun': witness 'Englishman In New York', with Marsalis' sensual soprano lines snaking around Sting's genteel phrases; 'Rock Steady', a hip, jazz-cat retelling of the story of Noah - "Volunteers needed for a very special trip / To commune with nature / On a big wooden ship", and 'Little Wing', a brisk, Hendrix blast punctuated with Hiram Bullock's electric guitar detonations.
'Nothing Like the Sun', if nothing else etches in stone the long-delayed death of the Police. Andy Summers, one of five guitarists who guest on the album (also on board are Mark Knopfler, Eric Clapton and Fareed Haque) and drummer Stewart Copeland don't figure in Sting's plans.
"I don't really see that we can better what we did, in terms of the business and the music," Sting says. "It's like everything we set out to do we achieved tenfold. So why just go out and keep doing it. That's stagnation."
Non musical ventures are also keeping the ex-Police chief away from his old crew these days. Sting, praised for his work with Meryl Streep in 'Plenty' and gouged for his campy performance with Jennifer Beals in 'The Bride', is about to get three more shots at the silver screen.
In the upcoming 'Julia and Julia', Sting teams with Kathleen Turner for some inspired steaminess. He recently finished filming 'Stormy Monday', with Tommy Lee Jones and Melanie Griffith, in his working-class hometown. "I play the owner of a jazz club, believe it or not. I'm also a gangster, a pretty heavy violent character. But my good side is that I love music. I always look for some saving grace in a bad character."
Next up is a hush-hush project with Martin Scorsese. "I'm not really allowed to talk about it. It's a bit of a secret. But Scorsese is directing. That's all I can say."
The new LP, most importantly, represents another milestone in Sting's quest to bring to life his vision of some sort of ultimate cross-cultural global fusion.
"What I wanted to do was to join everything up," he says. "And not necessarily dilute it, but just use elements to show a rock audience what was happening elsewhere. "To me, excitement comes when two things that were previously separate aren't anymore, and there's a spark that flies across from the two things. That's what I'm about, and I'll defend it till the cows come home."
© The Boston Globe