BILLBOARDFebruary 01, 1996
The following article by Melinda Newman appeared in a February 1996 issue of Billboard magazine...
A&M uplifted by Sting's 'Falling'...
New York - Sounding like the schoolteacher he once was, Sting describes the meaning behind the title of his new A&M album, 'Mercury Falling': "It's a phrase that I find laden with symbolic relevance. It means so many things. Mercury is a metal, a liquid, an element, a planet. It's an astrological symbol, an astronomical thing. You know, Mercury is the god of theft and commerce. He's the messenger, too. He's quite a complex character, this Mercury. As am I."
The material on the March 12 release is similarly rife with different interpretations: musically divergent and lyrically ambiguous. But as his seventh solo outing, it epitomises Sting's artistic depth and continual ability to surprise.
"Mercurial is probably a good description of this record in that it's everywhere, and you can't quite pin it down in terms of its references and its musical styles," says Sting.
Indeed, the album veers from the country stylings of 'I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying' and 'Lithium Sunset', to a lilting bossa nova beat on 'La Belle Dame Sans Regrets', to soulful seasonings on 'You Still Touch Me'.
The first single, the uplifting 'Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot', went to adult contemporary, triple-A, top 40, album rock, modern rock, and college radio Feb. 2. "You have to work radio very aggressively, especially with an artist like Sting, who is always coming up with different themes and lyrics. He moves from genre to genre," says A&M product manager Brad Pollak.
That diversity can cause confusion at radio. Harvey Kojan, PD at WNOR Norfolk, Va., an album rock outlet, says his station decides whether to play Sting on a song-by-song basis. "Sting has alternative credibility, so you can't say you automatically aren't going to play something," he says. "I haven't heard the new track, but we're a rock station and Sting's this eclectic jazz-pop mixture with a very adult audience." Sting has more of a foothold at adult contemporary radio. "I think one more good solo album and he'll be a core artist at our format," says Pat Paxton, PD at KHMX Houston.
When it comes to picking singles, Sting leaves the choice to A&M. "I used to know what would be a hit single and what wouldn't, and now I haven't the faintest idea," he says. "I think I've been very lucky in my career in that popular taste has coincided with what I thought was cool. But I have to prepare myself for the day when what I think is the right thing to do doesn't coincide with popular taste."
That day seems quite far away. Sting's last studio album, 1993's 'Ten Summoner's Tales', has been certified triple-platinum by the Recording Industry Assn. of America, tying it with his 1985 solo debut, 'The Dream Of The Blue Turtles' as his most successful release in the U.S. His 1987 album, '...Nothing Like The Sun', has gone double-platinum, while 1991's 'The Soul Cages' and 1994's greatest-hits collection have both sold more than 1 million units each.
"The new album will be a top 10 record for us for at least half a year," predicts Dennis Agreski, general marketing manager for music at Lechmere, a Woburn, Mass.-based electronics superstore chain. "We're more of an adult shopping area than a lot of retailers. I expect it to perform extremely well for us."
As pleased as A&M may be that Sting has such a following among the VH1 crowd, Pollak stresses the label's belief that Sting's audience extends beyond that older demographic.
"We're not going into this automatically assuming that he's just VH1 or just this or just that, because every one of Sting's albums has new opportunities and you have to be able to present that to everybody without just assuming that only VH1 would be interested," says Pollak. "His fans range from the late teens and early 20s on up. If we just stuck with a target audience, we'd be disregarding a huge core of Sting fans."
To reach as many potential record buyers as possible, A&M has booked Sting for a number of television shows that appeal to all different consumers. He will be on "Saturday Night Live" Feb. 24. He is also taping interviews for "Live With Regis & Kathie Lee," "CNN," and "Good Morning America" that will run closer to the album's release date. Sting will appear on "Late Show With David Letterman" April 10.
In addition to TV appearances, A&M is also buying a slate of ad time on cable and broadcast channels to promote 'Mercury Falling'. "His fans might not necessarily listen to the radio," says Pollak, "so we're going to have the most concerted TV (ad) effort we've had on one of his projects."
Following a European tour, Sting will begin a summer U.S. outing in June. He is booked in America by Frontier Booking International.
It may have been three years since Sting has had an album of new material to tour behind, but he's been represented by a dazzling array of side projects in the interim. He's currently on the soundtracks of both 'Leaving Las Vegas' and 'Sabrina'. In the last few years, he's performed with Bryan Adams and Rod Stewart on the chart-topping 'All For One', appeared on Leonard Cohen and Jimi Hendrix tribute albums, recorded with Tammy Wynette for her duets album, learned Gaelic phonetically so he could sing with the Chieftains, sung with Luciano Pavarotti, and recorded a track for the upcoming 'Nova Bossa: Red Hot + Rio' AIDS charity album. And that just skims the surface.
"I have a real problem saying the word no," says Sting with a laugh. "People ask me to work for them, and I just have to say, 'OK, I'll give that a go.' I also like being a journeyman, being a craftsman. I think there's a real danger of being painted into your ivory tower. To be asked to do different kinds of work, just to work for the money even, is good for your creative process."
For Sting, the more varied the material - whether it is on side projects or his own albums - the better. "For me, music is one big city. I don't see it as a compartmentalised, ghetto-zed kind of thing. I demand access to every department because I think music is a common language that links all of us."
On 'Mercury Falling', the theme that links the songs is a sense of redemption and acceptance that comes to each character.
"One of the acquisitions I've recently acquired is an acceptance of things that I cannot change," says Sting. "I think the protagonists here are often faced with a situation that simply cannot be changed, and the songs are about the heroism and courage it takes to accept that."
Before coming to any kind of resolution, however, most of the characters go through a period of isolation - a sensation with which Sting is familiar. "Even though I'm actually very happy at the moment with my family, I've been alone enough in my life to know that feeling very well, for it to be burned into my memory, you know," he says.
"In the past, I would have told you and believed that for me to be creative I would have had to be in some kind of pain or to manufacture some kind of crisis for me to be able to write at all," he continues. "I don't believe that anymore. I think I can be the opposite. I can be happy and have the knowledge of pain, but I don't have to be in pain to make music."
In fact, Sting sounds light-hearted and downright jovial when he describes a scenario that seems impossible to imagine in the life of the former king of pain. When asked what he does when one of his songs comes on the car radio, he replies, "The funniest thing is, if you're in traffic and somebody next to you is listening to the same radio station, you can sort of lip-sync the words and they freak out. We don't have that many radio stations in England, so you're almost guaranteed that the person next to you is going to be listening."
And the reaction of the person in the next car? Sting chuckles and says, "I generally get the bird when I do that."
© Billboard magazine