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Sting Rises to New Level of Accessibility : *** 1/2, STING, "Mercury Falling", A&M

March 10, 1996|Robert Hilburn

Since leaving the Police, Sting has challenged himself so aggressively as a songwriter and musician that his best albums have come with a heavy layer of creative tension--so much so that you often had to live with the work for a while before the emotion and craft fully filtered through.

Not this time. In his most accessible solo outing, Sting speaks about questions of redemption and faith with an openness and ease that is immediately appealing.

One reason is the comforting textures. Sting focuses on the musical shading of his records as much as the themes, a rarity among contemporary artists. Over the years, he has reached out to jazz and world music to add character and color to his sophisticated pop-rock creations.

There are still surprises, including the bossa nova backdrop of "La Belle Dame Sans Regrets," which is sung in French. Mostly, however, Sting turns to more mainstream pop-rock strains. "Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot," the first single, leans on the mid-tempo caress of such past hits as "Every Breath You Take," while there's a down-home country feel (and word play) in "I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying" and a winning touch of Memphis soul to "You Still Touch Me" and "All Four Seasons."

While not matching the artistic ambition of 1991's "The Soul Cages," this is an especially assured and endearing collection.

New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

* TimesLine 808-8463

To hear excerpts from the albums reviewed, call TimesLine and press * and the artist's corresponding four-digit code. Sting *5721

In 805 area code, call (818) 808-8463.

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