Friday, May 23, 2014

Indistinct Sting: Mercury Falling Fizzles!

The Good: Fine vocals, Good instrumental accompaniment
The Bad: Fairly short, Largely indistinct, Some pretty banal lyrics
The Basics: Largely one big musical mash, Mercury Falling by Sting is one of the artist’s least impressive, least creative, works.

Despite the fact that Sting’s tenure as my Artist Of The Month has vastly exceeded a month, I have largely enjoyed immersing myself in his works. My penultimate review of a Sting album is one of his least impressive works: Mercury Falling. It is hard to call an album that shipped (and presumably sold) a million units a “failure,” but Mercury Falling is impossible to call a success for Sting on any front.

Mercury Falling is a musically rich, but oddly dull album that was squeezed in between two of Sting’s most popular and commercially successful solo albums. The album is a logical extension of the pop-rock music Sting had long before mastered and while it foreshadows some of the experimentation that would follow on Brand New Day. But Mercury Falling has the feeling of being an artist in transition; Sting is experimenting and still presenting some familiar-sounding songs, so he has not quite committed to going off the rails entirely. The result is an album that is more auditory mush than it is audacious and it is unsurprising from that standpoint that it was not commercially successful.

Nevertheless, Mercury Falling is Sting’s work and where he wanted to be at that point (1996) in his musical career. With ten tracks clocking out at 48:08,all of the songs on Mercury Falling were written by Sting, save “La Belle Dame Sans Regrets,” which was co-written by Sting. Sting provides the lead vocals on the album and he plays bass on each track. Sting is credited as a co-producer of Mercury Falling, which makes it hard to deny that the album is anything but the musical vision of Sting.

Musically, Mercury Falling is a surprisingly tame and indistinct guitar/keyboards, bass, and drum sound. The album has one or two poppy tunes (most notably “I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying”) and the slower ballads, but it is largely mid-tempo, ballad-like songs that drift from one song into another. Sadly, Mercury Falling, despite having more saxophone parts, is one of Sting’s least musically-imaginative albums. Indeed, “Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot” and “You Still Touch Me” have a number of musical similarities to one another and sound similar for several phrases.

Vocally, Mercury Falling is boring. Sting does not strain his range or even try to impress listeners. Instead, he dully repeats lines ad nauseum on songs like “I Hung My Head” and on the rest of the album, he sings clearly enough that the listener can catch every line the first time around, making it largely unnecessary to listen to the work again.

Lyrically, Mercury Falling is not Sting’s most impressive work. Starting with “The Hounds Of Winter,” Sting begins Mercury Falling in an unimpressive fashion. With predictable rhymes like “My coat around my ears / I look for my companion / I have to dry my tears / It seems that she's gone / Leaving me too soon / I'm as dark as December / I'm as cold as the Man in the Moon”(“The Hounds Of Winter”), Sting leaves the listener wishing for more. Alas, the unsophisticated start to the album is largely indicative of what follows.

Fortunately, Mercury Falling ends well. The poetics of the final track are impressive. When Sting sings “Fill my eyes / O Lithium sunset / And take this lonesome burden / Of worry from my mind / Take this heartache / Of obsidian darkness / And fold my darkness / Into your yellow light” (“Lithium Sunset”), he creates evocative images in the listener’s mind and the listener has to wonder where that talent was on the rest of the album. “Lithium Sunset” is a pretty and well-written pop song.

While Mercury Falling might not have a load of political songs like one expects from a Sting album, it does have Sting’s trademark relationship insights. On Mercury Falling, he captures loss in a compelling way on “You Still Touch Me.” Indeed, there are fewer more heart-wrenching lines in mid-90’s pop-rock than “Now if I sleep / I sleep here alone / In my bed tonight / You still haunt me / And if I'm falling / I'm falling like a stone / In my nightmares / You still hold me” (“You Still Touch Me”).

On the balance, the best songs on Mercury Falling are available elsewhere, save “Lithium Sunset,” and that makes the album utterly dispensable in today’s age when singles can easily be purchased independently.

The best track is “Lithium Sunset,” the low point is “La Belle Dame Sans Regrets.”

For other works featuring Sting or The Police, please visit my reviews of:
If On A Winter’s Night...
Songs From The Labyrinth
Fields Of Gold: The Best Of Sting 1984 - 1994
Sacred Love
The Dream Of The Blue Turtles
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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