The Good: Instrumental accompaniment is varied and interesting, Some good lyrics, Good vocals
The Bad: Unsurprising vocals, Remix of “Send Your Love” is not great, Experiments do not come together for a cohesive album, Somewhat repetitive lyrics.
The Basics: I begin my exploration of the music of Sting with Sacred Love and find an intriguing, but hardly cohesive, experimental album.
As I looked into who should be my new musical Artist Of The Month, I found, much to my surprise, that I no longer had my old review of Brand New Day by Sting. I was then pretty shocked to discover I had no reviews of any albums by Sting; the closest one I had was a review of a compilation album of singles by The Police (reviewed here!). That settled it! My new male Artist Of The Month is Sting! The first album I managed to get in of Sting’s is Sacred Love.
Sacred Love is an experimental album by Sting and in the words of Tom Petty “. . . I don’t hear a single!” Sacred Love is interesting and largely enjoyable, but the musical experiments do not come together for a cohesive album the way Sophie B. Hawkins’s Timbre (reviewed here!) or Heather Nova’s South (reviewed here!). While Sting has a beautiful and familiar voice, on Sacred Love his vocals are more familiar than audacious. As a result, Sting does not seem to stretch vocally the way he does instrumentally on the album, which is somewhat disappointing.
With eleven tracks (ten songs, one remix of a song on the album), clocking out at just over an hour of music, Sacred Love is very much the work of Sting. Sting wrote all of the songs on the album and he provides the primary vocals on each song (though “Whenever I Say Your Name” is properly a duet with Mary J. Blige). Sting plays guitar or keyboards on each song and he is a co-producer of Sacred Love. Sacred Love is very much his musical vision.
That vision on Sacred Love is one of mellow experimentation. Sting mixes the music types up for very different flavors on each song. “Dead Man’s Rope” is light rock with a Latin undertone, while “The Book Of My Life” uses Anoushka Shankar on sitar to deliver a more Indian sound. The Flamenco guitar utilized by Vincente Amigo on “Send Your Love” bring an upbeat sound that is very different from the more contemplative “Inside” and “This War.” Musical experimentation is prevalent on Sacred Love and it largely works. The upbeat dance sound for “Never Coming Home” does not quite work and the extended instrumental solo at the end of it does not fit the flow of the rest of the album.
Vocally, Sacred Love is exactly what one expects of Sting. His vocals are a comfortable tenor and outside his fast-singing on “Never Coming Home,” there is nothing surprising or different from Sting’s vocals on Sacred Love. Sting harmonizes expertly with Mary J. Blige on “Whenever I Say Your Name” and it is impressive how articulate he is able to be at speed on “Never Coming Home,” but otherwise Sacred Love is (un)characterized by predictable and safe Sting vocals.
Repetition is one of the other issues facing Sacred Love. The album begins with “Inside,” which has contrasting lines about what is inside versus what is outside and while I enjoyed the song, it sets up the album with a lot of lyrical repetition and that accents how many of the songs that follow repeat lines and choruses an unfortunate number of times. Even so, on “Inside,” Sting actually uses the repetition well and he contrasts the repeated words “inside” and “outside” with some remarkably specific imagery that resonates. With poetics like “Inside the doors are sealed to love / Inside my heart is sleeping / Inside the fingers of my glove / Inside the bones of my right hand / Inside it's colder than the stars / Inside the dogs are weeping / Inside the circus of the wind” (“Inside”) Sting manages to hook the listener.
One of the things that surprised me as I begin my monthlong study of the works of Sting was how Sting actually has some musical storysongs on Sacred Love! Sting tells the story of a relationship dissolving with “Never Coming Home” where he creates a musical protagonist who “. . . wake[s] up in an empty bed a road drill hammers in my head / I call her name there's no reply it's not like her to let me lie / It's time for work it's time to go but something's different I don't know / I need a cup of coffee I'll feel better / I stumble to the bathroom door, her make up bag is on the floor / It really is a mess this place it takes some time to shave my face / I'm not really thinking straight she never lets me sleep this late / I'm almost done and then I see the letter” (“Never Coming Home”). Sting captures perfectly the uncertainty and wrenching loss of abandonment on “Never Coming Home.”
Sting also has message songs on Sacred Love. Amid the musings of interpersonal relationships, Sting sings a rock song about warmongering. While it may have been born out of a rejection of George W. Bush’s military pushes, “This War” actually has a much more universal quality to it. Sting sings “Yes, I'm the soul of indiscretion, / I was cursed with x-ray vision, / I could see right through all the lies you told, / When you smiled for the television / And you can see the coming battle / You pray the drums will never cease / And you may win this war that's coming / But would you tolerate the peace” (“This War”) with a universal sentiment that makes the problems of the specific war an indictment of war itself.
Ultimately, Sacred Love is an enjoyable, but unfortunately forgettable, album that might be worth listening to, but is tough to pick songs from that might endure as the best of Sting when his body of work is ultimately examined.
The best track is “Dead Man’s Rope,” the low point is “Send Your Love” (Dave Aude Remix).
For other, prior, Artist Of The Month reviews, please visit:
Tunnel Of Love - Bruce Springsteen
Cold Spring Harbor - Billy Joel
The Next Day - David Bowie
For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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