Sting might be a proponent of saving the rain forest, but you’d have a hard time communicating that to his record label. With a press kit that comes in three sections with highlights, 29 pages of lyrics and the normal “this is great, you should listen” adjectives tucked inside, the amount of paper is ridiculous given the lyrics are included in the liner notes. However, you don’t want to hear me bitch and moan about that. The new album, the first since his All This Time live recording on the night of 11 September 2001, Sting sees this record as taking the words “I love you” and reinventing them with his new ambient-meets-organic jazz pop. The opening tune “Inside” isn’t Sting reinventing the wheel but rather working the wheel to its maximum output with a string section added. Sounding more like his 1991 album The Soul Cages, the tune has that similar pop component but thankfully doesn’t go the way or electronica as his horrid hit single did last time around.
The album, dedicated to two people including the late Billboard editor Timothy White, Sting has a sense of urgency on this record that hasn’t been seen in a while. The flamenco work on “Send Your Love” then veers into a dance tango tempo that you sense will move into the dancehall beat at any moment. “Send your love into the future / Send your love into the distant dawn,” he sings. The tempo doesn’t go overtly dance, but there is a nice bass groove cutting underneath. The circular format weakens, though, as it goes on.
One surprise might be “Whenever I Say Your Name”, which opens as if a helicopter is landing. The urban arrangement seems to be a great idea, as the guest star Mary J. Blige makes the song shine. Each taking a verse or two before giving and taking during the chorus, the song seems to work. “Whenever I say your name, I’m already praying,” they sing as an ethereal-like sound is delivered in the distance. Thankfully the blips and bleeps are keep to a bare minimum. It moves into a gospel-like area as Mary is just being Mary. Another benefit is the song is allowed to blossom at more than five minutes, taking a short rest before bringing it back up again. “Dead Man’s Rope” starts again with an acoustic guitar, with Sting’s vocal dominating the introduction. While possessing a certain world music charm, the simplicity of the song is possibly the surprise of the record.
Religion is a big part of the record, but not to the point where Sting is sounding as if he’s on a pulpit. However, there seems to be a thread of trying to make some sense of it all. “Never Coming Home” has that definite electronica-layered treatment. Rambling through the lyrics that are echoed, the song sounds uninspired and quite dull. And the chorus is abysmal to be kind. “Stolen Car (Take Me Dancing)” has that cinematic-meets-Middle Eastern sound to it, void of all electronica and gadgetry. “I’m just a poor boy in a rich man’s car,” Sting sings as the track rolls along quite well. It’s near-perfect radio-friendly material and is worth being a single off the record. It also recalls his work on the soundtrack to Leaving Las Vegas.
“Forget about the Future” comes off like a lazy trip-hop track, minus most of the trip-hop. Regardless, the tune has that sultry blend of jazz, funk and soul. It seems the less that Sting does, the better off he and the listeners are. And Sting rolls along, not tinkering with it. One nice effect is the closing verse, which sounds like he’s performing on an old jazz album with the hiss and static slightly audible. “This War” sounds like it comes directly from left field, edging in seamlessly from the last song. Possessed by Hendrix and that late-sixties psychedelic feeling, this song is a double-edged sword. Sting manages to pull it off, but it’s not the sort of song that will be a staple after this upcoming tour. He does have some nice vocals on this however.
“The Book of My Life”, featuring Anousha Shankar on sitar, is melodic and rather sparse. By this time Sting has pretty much kept up his end of the bargain despite a remix of “Send Your Love”. Not as experimental as his previous album, which is a definite plus. Not his strongest album, but another relatively strong effort.