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Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The Dream Of The Blue Turtles [A.K.A. The Son Of Synchronicity] (A&M, 1985)
…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.
Then "Set The Free" becomes a liberating bachelor tune that works on a band level as well: Sting’s musical wives, Summers and Copeland, were suddenly gone as his pain. “Love Is The Seventh Wave” gives him the freedom of playing reggae the way he wanted. "Russians" borrows a melody from russian composer Prokofiev, bringing the cold war feeling of despair and sadness that free spirits felt in the mid eighties.Here we realize Sting's political view is not outdated if you replace now "Russians" with the word "Muslims", "Soviets" with "Arabs", "Reagan" with "Bush" and "Krushev" with, say... "Ahmadinejad." Leave the rest of the lyrics the same and you will realize the world is the same, in a relative way. Another comparsion can be found in “Children’s Crusade”, an apocalyptic analogy of the Great War, human slavery and drug addiction in modern England, sung as a tragic minor keyed waltz. Sting criticized the British government harshly in "We Work The Black Seam Together," and the first call to rescue the enviroment from the clutches of nuclear waste was sent. Wonder why Sting hasn't become a Knight? Because of his opinions.
It seems he also wanted to prove his way was the right way by showing former bandmate Stewart Copeland his variation of Zenyatta Mondatta's "Shadows In The Rain." I'm sure Stu laughed his ass off, no matter how good Omar Hakim could be. "Sting, be political, have your way, you can't beat what we put on those Police records, dude" the Police drummer might have said.
Sting lets Shakespeare appear in "Consider Me Gone" and introduces us to the works of Anne Rice in "Moon Over Bourbon Street," song based on her most popular piece, Interview With The Vampire. The teacher in Sting once again is trying not to tell us where to go but what other choices might be. The end of the album, the rocking "Fortress Around Your Heart," is an apology for all the anger Sting poured to his friends and family sung with gusto. The first part of the journey was completed.
Having finished a very good solo album, Sting toured Europe with his new band and lots of things happened in his life during this period: A second son with Trudie, and in late 1986 his mother passed away. In two years, Sting seemed to have aged ten. See Dreams cover and the following album's ,…Nothing Like The Sun.
Sun, released in 1987 when Sting was more compromised to Human Rights and the global enviroment than ever, is a farewell for his dead mother with songs about modern politics, again, but this time Sting was more involved. For this record, Sting kicked out Darryl Jones (again, the Miles Davis curse) and went back to bass-ics and proved he was still the man of the rumble. Although full of danceable african percussion -influenced by the crossover album of the day, Paul Simon's Graceland-, Sun is the beginning of Sting's descent into a deep melancholy for the death of his parents, who he never got along with and always criticized, even publicly and thru his Police songs -see "Synchronicity II". Now he deeply misses his mother in "The Lazarus Heart," a brilliant song about anger, frustration about death and the final Christian redemption. Sting writes on the album sleeve about what inspired him to write each tune. There's the possibility of a crime commited to avoid deportation of an "Englishman in New York," a "Secret Marriage" to escape from the Nazis, and even an anarchist chant claiming that "History Will Teach Us Nothing." The narrative found in these tunes is so colorful and creative the man from Newcastle feels he's in top of his game, even if there's a big sorrow hanging over him.

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.

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