A GENEROUS STING SETS HIMSELF FREE
“THE DREAM OF THE BLUE TURTLES.” Sting. A&M.;
Sting has gotten over his king-of-pain obsessiveness: “If you love somebody,” he sings on the lead track of his first solo album, “set them free.” And so he sets a generous tone. And lovingly, he frees us of the Jungian densities and pathological tilt of the last Police album, “Synchronicity,” and its arch-possessive ballad, “Every Breath You Take.”
On “The Dream of the Blue Turtles,” the Police chief voices a clear, anti-war, global valentine amid a boggling array of polished, passionate yet subtly insinuating tunes. This is music fully liberated from the three-man reggae-pop cage of the Police. Instead, Sting meshes with a jazzy four-man group: drummer Omar Hakim, bassist Darryl Jones, keyboardist Kenny Kirkland and saxophonist Branford Marsalis, whose precisely inspired lyricism carries the album’s wealth of mood.
Marsalis is a star attraction, certainly, yet the album is no less Sting’s triumph. The sharp tenor slap and grainy croon of his vocals have never been more expressive or varied, and his stylistic depth is evident at each turn. The aggressive R&B; charge of “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” yields to the congenial reggae of “Love Is the Seventh Wave.” The naively beautiful “Russians,” in which Sting salves his nuclear fears with a “hope the Russians love their children too,” swells with a synthesized snatch of Prokofiev.
Then comes “Children’s Crusade,” a mournful look back to World War I (“Poppies for young men/such bitter trade . . . all for a children’s crusade”) that equates its legacy with the drugged hopelessness of Britain’s modern youth, Marsalis’ horn an elegiac underscore. Here, as elsewhere on the album, the sense of a strongly sympathetic collaboration between gifted players is profound. On “Shadows in the Rain,” a full-tilt boogie propels the track--a whiskey-voiced hangover tale--into that rare realm where singer, song and band are thoroughly loose yet perfectly balanced.
Side 2 opens with an extraordinary ballad, “We Work the Black Seam,” which builds on a minimal five-note figure and Marsalis’ atonal accents. The song laments the deadly byproducts of the nuclear industry from the angry, unsung viewpoint of mine workers (“One day in a new clear age/they may understand our rage/Build machines that they can’t control/and bury the waste in great big hole. . . .”).
But there’s a lighter touch here as well. “Consider Me Gone” is a bluesy, lounge-jazz kiss-off of a love affair, while the album’s title track instrumental is a slice of pure improvisational joy, echoing Brubeck. And “Moon Over Bourbon Street"--inspired by Anne Rice’s novel, “Interview With the Vampire"--has the timeless sound and perfect melody of a pop standard, as Sting’s double-bass paces an arrangement that hints of an infernal Mardi Gras and his voice superbly enacts the tale of an ambivalent bloodsucker.
Even hard-core Police fans will respond to the album’s closer, “Fortress Around Your Heart,” which kicks in a stirring rock chorus and cements the album’s theme of building bridges with love and reassessment. Yet there’s not a hint of pandering about this album. There’s continuity enough between Sting’s Police record and this solo blotter, but when he coyly fades out one song with a joking reference to “every move you make, every cake you bake,” it’s clear that he’s found a higher emotional and broader musical ground.
Without losing sight of the pop audience, Sting has delivered a brilliant, uncompromised fusion of pop and jazz. It manages to transcend the self-centered “solo album” format with every collective breath it takes.