Less Is More in Sting’s Jazzy ‘Sacred Love’

The less Sting does on an album, the better off he and his listeners are. Such is the case with jazzy Sacred Love.

Sacred Love
15 September 2003

Sting might be a proponent of saving the rainforest, but you’d have a hard time communicating that to his record label. With a press kit 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.

Sacred Love, which follows 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 of electronica as his horrid hit single did last time.

Dedicated to two people, including the late Billboard editor Timothy White, Sting’s Sacred Love 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 a nice bass groove cuts underneath. The circular format weakens, though, as it goes on.

One surprise might be “Whenever I Say Your Name”, which opens sounding as if a helicopter is landing. The urban arrangement seems a great idea, as the guest star Mary J. Blige makes the song shine. The song seems to work, each taking a verse or two before giving and taking during the chorus. “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 kept to a bare minimum.

Sacred Love moves into a gospel-like area as Mary is just being Mary. Another benefit is the song is allowed to blossom for 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 vocals dominating the introduction. While possessing a certain world music charm, the song’s simplicity is possibly Sacred Love‘s surprise.

Religion is a big part of the record, but not to the point where Sting sounds like he’s singing from a pulpit. However, there seems to be a thread of trying to make 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, 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 Mike Figgis’ 1995 film, 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. The less Sting does, the better off he and his listeners are. 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. However, he does have some nice vocals.

“The Book of My Life”, featuring Anoushka Shankar on sitar, is melodic and rather sparse. By this time, Sting had kept up his end of the bargain despite a remix of “Send Your Love”. Sacred Love is not as experimental as his previous album, which is a definite plus. It is not his strongest album, but it is another relatively strong effort.