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THE STAMP OF STING : It's Time to Recognize His Joyful Musicality and Sophisticated Grace

October 11, 1987|ROBERT HILBURN

Imagine all the bets Sting could have made three years ago when he walked away from the Police, the first superstar band to emerge from the British new-wave scene of the late '70s.

Anyone with a sense of rock history or even a modestly cynical view of human nature would have been willing to put up a week's wages that Sting would eventually rejoin the other members for a worldwide reunion tour. If the fortune waiting at box offices around the world didn't tempt him, surely sentiment would. Who can resist the love of a million fans?

Those betting on a reunion would have been willing to double their stake last year when Sting teamed up with his old Police mates (drummer Stewart Copeland and guitarist Andy Summers) for three benefit performances on the Amnesty International tour.

The speculation--even among associates of the band--was that Sting would get so caught up in the emotion of the mini-reunion that he would agree to hit the road one final time with the Police.

After all, he had already exorcised his need for artistic independence with "The Dream of the Blue Turtles," his highly acclaimed 1985 solo album. What more was there to prove? The only questions seemed to be when and where the tour would start.

But Sting has so far defied the odds. Instead of joining a reunion tour, he dropped out of sight for several months to work on a second solo album. That collection, a two-record set titled ". . . Nothing Like the Sun" and due in stores Tuesday, is an extraordinary work that may finally convince doubting rock fans that a strong artistic heart is compatible with that handsome face.

One of the criticisms of "Blue Turtles" was that Sting--whose seductive eyes and million-dollar cheekbones make him one of rock's most popular pinups--is too much of a rock 'n' roll aristocrat to be taken seriously as a social commentator. And there were a few clumsy moments on that first solo album.

This time, however, Sting's social views--highlighted by the poignant "They Dance Alone," a song of courage and hope inspired by his involvement with Amnesty International--are more assured. The best moments of this carefully designed and purposeful album, which also offers moments of humor and unusual tenderness, recall the joyful musicality and sophisticated grace of Paul Simon's triumphant "Graceland" (see Chris Willman's review on this page).

Few things can be taken for granted in the volatile world of pop music, but it looks like it's also time to pay up on those Police reunion bets.

"To me, the Amnesty tours were definitely the Police's way of saying goodby," Sting said recently, sitting in an office on the A&M Records lot in Hollywood. "There had been constant offers to get back together, and the longer we stayed away the bigger the offers became. But I just wasn't interested. We had done it.

"We achieved what a band sets out to do, we had played Shea Stadium and sold millions of records. To do it again would just be boring and repetitious."

So why get together even on the Amnesty tour?

"I felt it would be nice to say goodby properly and the Amnesty shows meant we could say goodby for a good cause. It allowed us to feel good about bowing out as opposed to just cashing our chips in and saying let's make as much money as we can. . . . I have too much respect for what the band did to sell it like that."

Gordon Matthew Sumner--Sting's real name--is one of rock's most articulate figures. The son of a milkman, Sting grew up in a working-class section of Newcastle, a heavily industrialized town in England. He recognized early that education was a key to a better life and he became an avid reader, eventually obtaining a teaching degree from a local college. Married early, Sting taught English in a convent school in Newcastle before moving to London to pursue a career in music.

Sting played jazz in those days, rather than rock, and made some extra money as a model. The Police was formed in 1977, and the group's recording of "Roxanne," a reggae-flavored rock ballad, was a hit in both the United States and England in 1979. By the time the group's "Synchronicity" album was released in 1983, the band was well on its way to becoming the biggest draw in rock. More than 55,000 fans saw the Police at Hollywood Park in Inglewood. By the following spring, however, the Police--citing internal pressure and fatigue--called it quits.

Sting surprised fans of the band in "Blue Turtles" by returning somewhat to his jazz roots, teaming up on the album and tour with such respected musicians as saxophonist Branford Marsalis and keyboardist Kenny Kirkland.

As speculation flourished after the mini-reunion, Sting (who is divorced and now lives in England with actress Trudie Styler and their two children) settled in a New York apartment to write the songs for the new album.

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