The Good: Good vocals/harmonies
The Bad: Short, Musically unimaginative, Vocally unimaginative, Lyrically dull
The Basics: If On A Winter’s Night... has Sting doing what he wants, which is apparently making bland holiday music.
When I reviewed the Sting album, Songs From The Labyrinth (Here!), I cut Sting a lot of slack. After all, there is something inherently awesome about a musical artist getting to the point in their career and personal development where they say to hell with commercialism and produce exactly what they damn well please. Songs From The Labyrinth is cool because Sting wanted to make an Elizabethan music album and he pulled it off admirably. The same cannot be said of If On A Winter’s Night.... If On A Winter’s Night... is a very similar album to Songs From The Labyrinth, save that it is a thematic album: all of the songs are about winter, Christmas, and holiday bonding. Where Songs From The Labyrinth was a cool musical experiment, If On A Winter’s Night... sounds much more like the artist got stuck in a rut. If On A Winter’s Night... is a vocally-driven album that sounds like Renaissance light rock. Largely, it sounds like b-sides from Songs From The Labyrinth and those who come to Sting’s music because of his pop-rock foundation will find that he has strayed to an utterly unrecognizable place on If On A Winter’s Night….
With fifteen tracks, occupying just over fifty minutes of the c.d.’s capacity, the biggest strike against If On A Winter’s Night… is that it is boring, with a close second being that it is short. I suppose it’s a catch-22, but I prefer an album be packed, even if I do not particularly enjoy it. What does appear on the album is largely the musical vision of Sting. Sting wrote (or co-wrote) the lyrics for three of the songs and performed the English adaptation of another. While that might sound somewhat unimpressive considering how much influence Sting usually has over his own albums, most of the songs on the album are traditional or adapted from poems that are now in the public domain. As well, Sting came up with music for a Robert Louis Stevenson poem on “Christmas At Sea.” Sting performs all of the primary vocals and he plays an instrument (percussion, lute, etc.) on almost every song. Sting is a co-producer of the album, which means that If On A Winter’s Night… is the album he intended to make at the time!.
Sting presents his usual, smooth vocals on If On A Winter’s Night.... He stays safely in his alto range on If On A Winter’s Night... and it seems his purpose is largely to get those not into classic poetry into it; as a result, every line, every word is sung crystal clear. Unfortunately, because the album is dominated by his voice (the instrumentals are, truly, accompaniment to the instrument that is Sting’s voice), the songs have a tendency to blend together. Sting holds notes, sings sleepily, and evokes a very chill mood. Sting goes lower on “You Only Cross My Mind In Winter,” but by that point in the album, it’s hard to believe most listeners would still even be awake.
Instrumentally, If On A Winter’s Night… is similarly dull. The guitars and lutes blandly follow Sting’s vocals. Outside the annoyingly repetitive “Soul Cake,” which utilizes trumpets and up-tempo guitars, If On A Winter’s Night… is depressingly slow and musically bland. The strings are soft, the percussion subtle, and the net result is that there are no real hum-able tunes on the album.
Ultimately, outside those utterly sick of every other holiday album in the universe, I am at a loss as to for whom If On A Winter’s Night would appeal. The best track is “You Only Cross My Mind In Winter,” the rest of the album is pretty forgettable and bland.
For other works featuring Sting or The Police, please visit my reviews of:
Fields Of Gold: The Best Of Sting 1984 - 1994
Every Breath You Take: The Singles - The Police
For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page where the albums are organized from best to worst!
© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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