02.10. – Happy Birthday !!! Sting – leader and bassist of the Police, sometime movie star, and now a solo recording artist with his own handpicked jazz ensemble – has developed one of the most artfully controlled pop songwriting voices of the last decade. It is a voice that wants to appeal to everyone and at the same time to be taken very seriously with its message of pacifism and global unity.
But Sting’s music doesn’t simply preach this secular gospel. It wants to embody the ”one world” concept by stylistically transcending time and place. In his continuing search to refine a truly international pop voice, Sting has adopted a childlike singing style that hybridizes West Indian and English inflections and developed a modal melodic signature that connects Anglican liturgical music to West African chant.
This studied formality coincides with a literary self-consciousness that bucks the anti-intellectual tides of pop-rock tradition. The overt literary references in Sting’s songs have included Nabokov, Jung and and Shakespeare. And ”Moon Over Bourbon Street,” on his first solo album, ”The Dream of the Blue Turtles” (A&M SP-3750), is inspired by the Anne Rice novel, ”Interview With a Vampire.” This song also happens to be one of the only swinging tunes on an album in which Sting has integrated American jazz into a style whose principal ingredients until now have been new-wave pop and Jamaican reggae.
”The Dream of the Blue Turtles” is much more schematic and much less passionate than the Police’s 1983 masterpiece, ”Synchronicity,” for which Sting wrote all but two of the tunes. Forged out of the embers of a broken marriage, his songs on ”Synchronicity” interwove confessions of extreme personal anguish with modern fables and ancient folk tales to suggest a provocative juxtaposition between the singer’s personal pain and his vision of the world teetering on the abyss. ”The Dream of the Blue Turtles” makes similar comparisons but from a more emotionally distanced point of view. At its best, the album is an austere and lovely, if somewhat official-sounding series of reflections on the interconnectedness of nature, technology, society and personal commitment.
The integration of jazz into Sting’s ever-broadening vocabulary makes ”The Dream of the Blue Turtles” more musically sophisticated than even ”Synchronicity.” Especially in the album’s swinging mid-tempo songs, ”Consider Me Gone” and a sizzling remake of ”Shadows in the Rain,” from the Police’s 1980 album, ”Zenyatta Mondatta,” Sting responds to his handpicked players with a volatile vocal punch. As a singer, he can really swing. The fine quartet he brought together for the album includes Branford Marsalis on saxophone, Darryl Jones on bass, the keyboardist Kenny Kirkland, and Omar Hakim, the drummer from Weather Report.
But the way Sting uses these adventurous musicians shows him to be a conservative in matters of jazz. The record is no more a pure jazz album than the Police’s early fusions of reggae and new-wave pop were pure reggae. Following in the footsteps of Joni Mitchell and Steely Dan, he has used jazz more for its textural colors than for its rhythmic and improvisatory possibilities. ”Blue Turtles” is an impeccably polished, moody pop-jazz album. While the arrangements incorporate many delicious jazz licks, only in the short instrumental, ”The Dream of the Blue Turtles,” is spontaneity allowed to push the rigid borders of the songs. And Mr. Hakim’s fleet drumming is very similar in feel to the Police drummer, Stewart Copeland’s light, kicking backbeats.
”The Dream of the Blue Turtles” is a cooler and more formal solo album than one might have expected from Sting at this point in his career. But in the intensity of its moral vision – of the faith and hope invested in the idea that popular music can transform lives – it belongs to a very special class of record. Like Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder, Sting has set himself the task of creating popular music that makes history by being a culmination of the past.
Mr. Springsteen is nothing less than the summation of the rock-and-roll traditions he grew up with, and Mr. Wonder continues to compile a personal synthesis of the entire history of black music. Sting’s ideal of a global pop language that can entertain and enlighten everybody is a much bigger and much vaguer dream – a more literary minded extension of the Beatles’ utopian ideals. Even if that dream is almost surely unrealizable, it is hard to imagine a pop musician embarking on a nobler quest.