Wednesday, September 16, 2009

One Hit Wonders: Letting His Hair Down

Sting: The Dream of the Blue Turtles (1985) – Some of you are probably asking yourselves, “Sting only has one good album?” or possibly (probably…JT), “Sting was associated with any good albums?” And I will respond, “Yes.” Though he did produce four (and only four) stellar albums with the Police, in those instances he was part of a band, and even though he was the main focus and songwriter (singles-wise anyway…album tracks were another matter), he needed the sizeable chops of Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland to make his simple pop songs about love and socio-political awareness become not only visceral, but interesting -- and therefore timeless.

The Dream of the Blue Turtles, his post-Police solo debut, is proof that he could still carry some songwriting weight…though again he had a dream-come-true band of contemporary jazz greats filling in the gaps. This album captures Sting before his pretention overshadowed his ambition (though there’s plenty of both) and finds him in several moods ranging from playful to pensive. He covers a lot of ground in a short time; everything from lamenting the young British lives lost during the First World War in comparison with those lost to drug addiction (Children’s Crusade), to Anne Rice inspired vampires in New Orleans (Moon Over Bourbon Street), and of course touches on love and the politics of the time. The latter especially dates the album, most obviously on the brooding, plaintive ballad, Russians. But overall these ten songs of contemporary jazz pop have stood up well over the years, and many sound as fresh today as they did when Reagan was still king. Part of this freshness is due to a loose, almost freeform flavor throughout the album. But also, Sting is more vulnerable, less confident -- not only in his songwriting, but in his playing, by stepping out from behind the comfort of his familiar bass and taking up the guitar, with which he is competent but not adept. Furthermore, this is a situation where the album tracks, for the most part, outshine the singles (with a huge exception being Fortress Around Your Heart), and his backing band enables him to stretch in musical directions that may have sounded out of place with the Police. But perhaps most importantly, and despite the gravity underlying many of these tracks, the fact that Sting allows himself to let his hair down, especially on the reworking of early Police staple Shadows in the Rain, gives this album an immediateness that makes it not only good but also enjoyable.

Of course after The Dream of the Blue Turtles, Sting went on to ridiculous heights commercially, but for my money he only penned one other decent tune (An Englishman in New York from …Nothing Like the Sun), and after another ten or so years, his pretentiousness was finally outweighed by the copious amounts of cheese spewing from his egomaniacal mouth. Still, The Dream of the Blue Turtles is proof of what he once was…as well as what he would eventually become.

***For those who enjoy rockumentaries, the companion film Bring On the Night, about the making of the album and the subsequent tour, is truly fantastic.***

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