When the Police broke up in the mid-‘80s, many thought that Sting would be successful, but not even come close to the heights of his previous group. Well, they were wrong. Having spent twice as much time on his solo career now than with the Police, the 50-something star has created a large body of consistently strong work. Although a similar titled album was released in 1997, this collection is basically version 2.0—slightly different but consisting of all of the staples from both entities. But what makes this album better is the flow it possesses, not bowing down to a chronological order of a quarter-century of music.
Beginning with the reggae and calypso feeling of “Message in a Bottle” from the Police’s Reggatta de Blanc, the disc gets off to a very good start. Backed by one of the best in the business in drummer Stewart Copeland, the song moves effortlessly from the laid-back, relaxing pop to more of an urgent rock tempo. Guitarist Andy Summers rears his licks during the conclusion in a series of brief yet punchy riffs. “Can’t Stand Losing You” continues this feeling but for some reason the vocals and overall quality sounds tinny and hidden in the background. Sting’s vocals are not as domineering while the mix is a bit open to skepticism, although it improves marginally as it evolves. “Englishman in New York” has more of a jazz tint with its horns and subtle piano touches despite its rather busy bridge.
One of the album’s highlights, without question, is “Every Breath You Take”. While there isn’t a lot left to say about the classic track, it still sounds as fresh now as it did on vinyl and those inventive cassette tapes nearly two decades ago. The creepy stalking imagery is often lost in the adorable arrangement, but there is a certain dark “Big Brother” (as in Orwell, not the reality show) quality throughout. The ensuing “Seven Days” is a questionable inclusion at best. Lacking any sort of intensity or verve, the song seems to amble along at a pace a latter day XTC would give meaning to. Thankfully “Walking on the Moon” erases the previous faux pas.
A noticeable difference between Sting the elder and Sting the younger is the mellowing of his style, working quite well on “Fields of Gold”. From one of his bigger solo albums Ten Summoner’s Tales, the number meshes vocals and arrangement to a sonic tee. If there’s a knock on the song, it could be the fact it’s conclusion is a bit abbreviated, not being fully flushed out. “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” brings this up a notch in tempo, another signature of any credible compilation from the Police. Another solo gem comes via “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” from Sting’s The Dream of the Blue Turtles. It was also the first hit of his solo career and paved the way for what was to come.
Two notable inclusions on this record are the recent solo tracks from Brand New Day, beginning with the funky title track. Going on for a bit longer than desired, it tends to drag in places as the chorus is beaten to near death. “Desert Rose” from the same album is immediately thrown in, but given other tracks that are omitted, notably “All This Time”, the recent hit could be replaced. Looking at the track listing, it actually could be mistaken for a contemporary set list from Sting’s touring schedule. The homestretch sees a lot of gems that date back many moons ago.
“Don’t Stand So Close to Me” and “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You” pick the collection back up by its bootstraps, especially the infectious rhythm of the latter. The orchestral structure takes some of the luster from the track, but it still can be considered one of the half-dozen memorable solo offerings. Bringing up the rear are “Roxanne” and “So Lonely”, which seems like an odd closer. While it’s up to date and includes a few new songs, there isn’t a tremendous amount of difference between this and the 1997 release. At worst you have the best of both worlds.