…Nothing Like The Sun (A&M, 1987)
It is amazing how recorded music sounds the same, but it’s us who grow old and learn how to listen to the same music with evolved ears. Sting’s life and ours have just completed a full circle. He went solo and went jazz, experienced a spiritual change, maybe a meltdown, went pop, failed, and all of a sudden -happily for us- reunited with the Police and nowadays he is experimenting a huge flashback of songs, tours, and emotions with his two successful buddies, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland. He is ready to hit the road in what might be the most successful reunion tour of rock history. Welcome Back.
But let’s rewind our memory tapes back to 1985: Sting has just declared he’s not interested in touring nor recording with The Police anymore, and announced he want to pursue a musical carrer based upon his passion for jazz by releasing his first solo album. Sting notes it’s not a solo album per se, but a collaboration with his fellow musicians, who are nothing but virtuosos for hire: Omar Hakim on drums, Kenny Kirkland on piano, and the greatest outlaw of jazz: bass player Darryl Jones who left Miles Davis’ troupe to join the King Of Pain’s court for a short period. Man, Miles was pissed at the little runt that dumped him for more dough; and it seems he casted a course on the bass man: Jones would later join The Rolling Stones in 1994 and he’s still with the band, but he has never, never been considered an original member.
His first solo album didn't turn out to be jazz. The Dream Of The Blue Turtles is as pop as what 80’s pop music was, and that’s it, it's not filed under "Jazz" and will never be. Gordon, you can’t call it jazz just because Branford Marsalis plays his annoying (yes, annoying) alto saxophone all over. You should have called his brother Wynton!
Also, Sting should have not thought about jazz and worked more on his pop chops, but then again, in 1985 the word "jazz" meant cool, and Sting was about to prove it. First of all, he had to shake off his tortured image presented on the last Police album, Synchronicity, and show himself as somebody who can freely sing and play the guitar with an ease, better mood. As an opening track, he chose “If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free,” a true exorcism from the stalker spirit who sung “Every Breath You Take.” He was getting rid of that negative image with a haircut, designer clothes, musicians who actually followed his detailed directions and, on a personal level, with the end of a bitter divorce and the beginning of his relationship with Trudie Styler -his ex-wife’s best friend.
The centerpoint of the album, and the reason why it became more popular in South America than a usual hit record, is the song "They Dance Alone (Cueca solo)," about the mothers of the dissapeared during Chile's military government in the seventies and eighties. The song tried to heal a wound in Chilean society by comparing the suffering of the mothers with Sting's own loss, as well as General Pinochet's: "think of your own mother, dancing with an invisible son...". The subject of forgiveness is subtlely shown, the same way Sting showed it in "Russians."
Opposers of the dictator cheered the song suggesting his death, but actually it was more a melancholy call for redemption than anything else. Pinochet reportedly received a copy of the album, but nothing was said from the Chilean government. EMI Odeón Chilena did release the album on cassette, without censoring "They Dance Alone" nor any other tunes. The fact that "They Dance Alone" was heard in that country was a small triumph on Sting, but not for musical reasons: in 1987 Pinochet was preparing a referendum to ask Chile if they wanted him to leave right away or to stay 10 more years. An entertainment-human rights-political scandal by censoring Sting's material would have been dangerous for Pinochet's plans. He lost the referendum and left power in 1990 anyways. Even though 1988 Spanish EP ...Nada Como El Sol wasn't to be found in Chile because Pinochet's regime was becoming more open but still the country wasn't a playground.
"Fragile" is yet another peace song with a more abstract narrative than "Alone;" in which Sting plays the haunting acoustic guitar riff that's become instantly recognizable everywhere in the world. The big bucks came with the album's first single "We'll Be Together," a funky tune with romantic lyrics of monogamy that in our opinion never worked out completely. It's one of the worst Sting songs, and after this one the album regains its subject of World Music introspectiveness with "Straight To My Heart," moving towards standard jazz with "Sister Moon" and "Rock Steady" and paying a tribute to Jimi Hendrix with "Little Wings," featuring the Gil Evans Orchestra.
In Sun, Shakespeare turned out to be the big influence; not jazz, not Police, not even Sting's friends of the day like Peter Gabriel and Bono and the whole Amnesty International movement. Sting maybe felt the Bard was being reincarnated in him and his work to croon about how difficult to live in the Eighties had become. The World was going through a dramatical change that had this album as a loud witness: In 1989 the Berlin Wall fell and the whole chess game changed. Little before that, Sting sang and played his bass free of any creative control, addressing the issues the Western World wasn't ready to deal with.
After playing a set for an Amnesty International concert in Santiago de Chile in 1990, Sting would never become involved in politics again. His voice is not even to be heard in non political world affairs like global warming. He did what he had to do and he accomplished it, with a little help from Shakespeare and his own personal demons. It took him two years, two albums, one of the greatest rock bands of history and a family to grow as a person, and he helped a lot of people -the listeners- by doing that.
His following albums would be very good as well: A farewell to his father called The Soul Cages, more references to Elizabethian times in Ten Summoner's Tales, and the peak of his musical evolution in Mercury Falling, so far his best work to date.