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Sting: 57th & 9th (2016)

57th & 9th is hailed as a return to Sting’s pop/rock roots in over a decade. The album has been getting mixed reviews. I believe that because it’s been so long since we’ve heard such an album from him, we may have forgotten that Sting has never been a traditional pop/rock star to begin with.

He has always had a unique perspective and inspiration when it came to music. Some of his biggest hits were made of either non-traditional themes or dark subject matter. For those of you old enough to remember, even in his early days with The Police, Sting was always eclectic in his choice of inspirational materials. As an example, his first big hit, Roxanne, was inspired by Edmond Rostand’s play Cyrano de Bergerac along with Sting’s first observance of prostitutes in Paris. As well, let’s not forget, Every Breath You Take, off The Polices’ final studio album: Synchronicity. This song, which has been misinterpreted by many over the years as an endearing love song, is essentially about an obsessive stalker.

Sting’s unique perception of music spilled over into his solo career where he continued to challenge himself and the pop/rock format by incorporating a multitude of musical genus such as jazz, classical, medieval or world music into his albums. I think this shows there is no limit to his ever-expansive musical template.

As much I enjoyed how Sting continued to evolve as an artist, there was always a part of me hoping that one day he would return to his pop/rock roots. Thankfully, he’s done just that with 57th & 9TH.

The album was given a tight deadline of three months to get recorded, with Sting shooting ideas with members of his touring band, Vinnie Colaiuta and Dominic Miller as well as members from a Tex Mex band called The Last Bandoleros.

In my opinion, this “guerrilla” approach to recording really pushed him out of his comfort zone thus invigorating the artist. Giving Sting a deadline and no real theme or concept for the album except to just create a collection of songs, gave this album a sense of urgency and energy that hasn’t been heard on a Sting album in decades. In fact, he hasn’t sounded this engaged or vibrant since 1993’s Ten Summoner’s Tales.

Highlights on the album include the opening track and The Police inspired lead single, I Can’t Stop Thinking About You. At first this song sounds like a catchy tune about someone searching for love but when I listen to it completely I think it’s about Sting’s hunt for song lyrics to fill a blank page. In fact, the liner notes mention something similar. The second track, 50,000, is a tribute to Sting’s fallen musical comrades, and was written the same week Prince died. Then there’s Petrol Head is a hard-rocking roadsong. Now, my personal favourite is track eight. It’s a haunting mid tempo number called If You Can’t Love Me about how love and rational don’t go hand in hand during a break up. The album comes to and close with two of Sting’s strongest tracks, first being Inshallah, a song about the refugee crisis from a humanitarian point of view. Then there’s The Empty Chair, a dedication to James Foley, a journalist who was executed by terrorists in Syria.

57th & 9th is a solid album from Sting, but will take numerous listens before it reveals itself to the listener. I do understand the mixed reviews, some of the songs’ subject matter may not be suited to what fans consider pop/rock songs anymore. Most notably, One Fine Day, which is a fun danceable song until you realize it’s about a skeptic’s view on climate change.

All in all, 57th & 9th may not be a perfect album but it is a joy to hear Sting belt out his signature voice alongside some cranked up guitars.

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