Sound: You can probably guess what you're going to get with this record. Sting, backed with an orchestra. But, here's the interesting bit, it's not as you'd expect. Not at all. If most artists did this, they'd select all their most well-known songs (like a greatest hits) and say "Yeah, they'll do" - record them exactly as they were originally, but with an orchestra stuck behind them. But Sting isn't most artists. Most artists would have the stings simply bowing some dull collective chord behind your standard band. The rest of the orchestra being used, maybe once in a blue moon. But Sting isn't most artists.
On this CD, Sting has selected a number of tracks that most casual listeners will have never heard of. He opens the album with Next To You - a song that was a punky-rock number back in his Police days. Surprisingly, it still retains the fire and energy that it originally showcased - even though arranged to have the heafty string, brass and percussion sections behind it. Sting then moves through a couple more of his more well-known numbers; Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic - which feels as though it was built for an orchestra - and Englishman In New York. The latter remains largely unchanged, with the exception of minor structure changes - nothing major. It does, however, sound gorgeous in how it's played.
There is then two more lesser-known songs. I Hung My Head, a song played gracefully, happily - though with rather dark lyrics. To say it was originally classed as quite a country song, the working into an orchestral piece works quite well. Odd time signature to it - see if you can work it out. It's followed by You Will Be My Ain True Love. The Irish/Celtic nature of this song, that serenity and essential Celtic feel that the song provides, is almost spoiled by a fanfare-styled introduction, complete with heafty brass/percussion lines. The song does come into it's own after this, just. That lone violin, playing along with the vocals just sounds beautiful.
Next comes two more songs, both of which are relatively well-known within Sting's career. Roxanne, again, has been pulled and toyed with to create something new. As epic and grand as it is, it doesn't quite feel right - when you have the original version playing in your head, I mean. The way it was intended had that raw energy that went with it, as opposed to the emotion that went into this version. The former, I dunno. As I said, it just feels right. This is followed up by When We Dance - a song which is again, relatively unchanged (the original studio recording used almost the same instrumentation).
The rest of the songs are all lesser known numbers from Sting's back-catalogue. The End Of The Game, which remains to be one of the less interesting songs on the album. As grand and up-beat as it comes accross, it just doesn't stand up to the rest. It too has some Celtic influence thrown in there - I swear I can hear some reference to Everybody Laughed But You in the background? Maybe that's just me. I Burn For You (my favourite from this release), We Work The Black Seam (a track that I was very unsure of at first - but it did grow on me. Same structure, but feels a lot grander than when released on Dream of The Blue Turtles), She's Too Good For Me (immensely better than the original version, I think - there's such a great energy to it!) and The Pirates Bride finish up the album. The last track finishes the album on a beautful note, if not leaving you wanting a little more. // 9
Lyrics: I'm not quite sure why, but Stings vocals don't feel as powerful as they usually do on his studio recordings. They sound more 'live' - I think Sting fans will know what I mean. As great as his vocals are, and they are, he always leaves them a little too loose/free when singing live (stopping a word too early etc.), and that's how it feel on here. I think that's just his way of emphasising how he feels about the lyrics while performing them. Be that the case, then that really shows through on We Work The Black Seam - a song about the miners' strikes in Sting's native Newcastle. You can tell that he's passionate about that subject. The backing vocalist(s) that Sting has with him on this are brilliant too. Perfect harmonies throughout. Wonderfully performed on The Pirate's Bride and You Will By My Ain True Love.
When talking about the lyrics, if you've not heard/read Sting's lyrics, or only heard Every Breath You Take, Sting is one of the greatest storytellers/poets of our age. His lyrics in I Hung My Head (depicting a man who has accidentally shoots someone and, as a result, ends up facing death), I Burn For You (the story of someone yearning for somebody else), The End Of The Game (a story of a fox outrunning it's persuers) and The Pirate's Bride all tell storys in such a way, most of today's great novelists/poets would easily be jealous. // 10
Overall Impression: The album moves from mood to mood with relative ease, showing such beauty within the music whilst doing so. As I have stated, the album has it's slightly disappointing parts, but that doesn't take you away from what Sting has achieved on this release. Will you like it? It's hard to say. Sting has his rock fans, his jazz fans, his general fans, and now his classical fans, I guess. I wouldn't get your hopes up if you were strictly into having fun with his music - like with The Police or his more up-beat solo songs. If you're looking to chill out to his music, then I reckon this is perfect for you. If you're a general fan, then I know you're going to buy this - that's what fans do, isn't it? I'll allow you to decide yourselves. // 9
- Anthony Bentley (c) 2010