If you’ve been fortunate to see the special behind-the-scenes documentary that coincided with the album, you may find this album to be lacking a noticeable amount of tension and initial feeling. Originally intended as the secret Policeman’s ball after yet another successful album and world tour, the date of the show, September 11th, will be permanently remembered for something entirely different. In the documentary, Sting and band mates sit watching the tragic events unfolding, discuss the evening’s performance and whether or not to perform. Like most of that day’s footage, the stark reality speaks volumes more than any syllables uttered. They then agree to perform “Fragile”, which opens this album. As the subdued musicians walk onstage, Sting speaks of the tragedy and how they may or may not continue after the opening song. Unfortunately, the snippet of mixed feelings, emotions and sadness is edited from the album configuration. Dedicated to those who lost their lives on that day, the record is eclectic and engaging even by Sting’s standards.
“Fragile”, a very jazzy arrangement with its salsa and Latin feel, has all the makings of a Sade outtake or b-side, with a sultry delivery Sting has become more comfortable emitting since performing songs for the motion picture “Leaving Las Vegas”. The violin and orchestral overtones are visible also on “A Thousand Years” slide into the subtle, muzak territory, but strays away enough from it to be considered credible. One also notices the early introductions of the band during the bridge of “Perfect Love . . . Gone Wrong”, a possible sign that they make stop soon afterwards.
What is one of the major obstacles facing an album of rearrangements is the possible bastardization of original classics. Although “All This Time” is hard to compare in terms of importance to a tune like “Roxanne”, the song loses a lot of its steam immediately after the chorus, resembling a Steely Dan studio session performance than an actual pop/rock song. The live feeling is also noticeably stilted as between song banter is spliced from the proceedings, although there is some hand clapping sprinkled throughout to create a less stagnant situation. “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” is another audible miscue, despite the best of inventive intentions. The song appears to end listlessly without any passion or theatrics. It’s as if they are all performing in synchronicity but with all of them on some numbing autopilot. But given the circumstances, perhaps it was one of the furthest things from their minds
“When We Dance” is one of the surprising better songs on the record, with the harmony vocals of Janice Pendarvis and Katreese Barnes giving a much-needed infusion of soul and positive energy. “Roxanne” is another key component, with the piano styling of Jason Rebello and trumpet of Chris Botti adding enough substance to put it seemingly over the top. But then again, a good song is a good song is a good song, so a great accordion version wouldn’t be an unfathomable possibility. The hit parade continues with the well-placed wall of sound in “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” which ascends to an almost telegraphic gospel rendition.
What is key to this album isn’t that every song has been completely remade, but revamped enough to add a certain spark. A perfect example is “Fields of Gold”, which sounds closest to its original. The use of flamenco guitar and slight harmony backing vocals are very pleasing and soothing to hear, but the spacious use of the instruments reminds one of Dire Straits, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You” is along the same lines, but is slightly more creative with its subtle bridge orchestration. If there are two throwaways among the 15 they would have to be “Moon Over Bourbon Street” and its Siamese twin “Dienda”, both loose jazz ballads which add little to the overall proceedings, with Sting adding a Louis Armstrong growl on the former. But on the whole, the album is worth listening too, despite the context being sonically lost.