ALBUM REVIEW: Sting reaffirms his identity with ‘My Songs’

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It’s not uncommon for an artist to live many lives through the course of a career, but few transcend boundaries quite like Sting. Having won a Grammy or Best Reggae Album of 2018 for his collaboration with Shaggy, Sting’s identity has been subject to much interpretation and change as of late. With the release of My Songs, he reminds audiences new and old of his roots and time-tested merit as a musician.

My Songs
Sting
A&M, May 24

While there’s no new songs on the album, Sting managed to put a new creative twist on many of his classics. The tracklist plays like a Greatest Hits compilation, but gives listeners an extra layer of context. The 15 tracks reminds us of the work that made Sting a household name but contextualizes it in terms of his musical development over the years. He offers his evolved perspective on what his music can be.

The album begins with the familiar classic “Brand New Day.” While the original version closed out the 1999 album of the same name, it’s the perfect song to begin this record. It serves as an excellent metaphor for Sting’s stylistic renaissance on display throughout this album. The new version does away with the long introduction, opening with a rousing harmonica and piano duet. On the decidedly more upbeat take, the vocals are accompanied by an uplifting layer of synth to add a warming layer to the piece. It also doesn’t have the original’s long and psychedelic outro, going for an abrupt end as the instrumentals mute to emphasize the final lyrics: “Stand Up.”

Gordon Summer’s legacy extends past his solo work as Sting into his tenure as front man of the band The Police, and this album makes a conscious effort to reflect the many hats he has worn. The album’s fourth track reimagines “Every Breath You Take.” The track has a much more resonant and echoing start than The Police cut, highlighted by instrumentation that’s more involved in the storytelling process. Slightly sped up, it creates an uplifting mood for the nostalgic single. This happier tone is highlighted three minutes in when the harmonies in the song appear to sound crisper and more enthusiastic than in previous recordings, followed by a cleaner fade to silence.

The album also reflects the work of The Police with “Message in a Bottle.” The song is different from the first note. The opening bass gives the song a funkier feel. Followed by Sting’s deeper vocal register, it’s more focused and mature than the original. The reimagining has call-and-response harmonies and secondary vocals as the song builds and repeats the chorus, adding vocal embellishments by Sting.

The album ends with a high-energy live recording of one of classic rock’s most iconic songs, “Roxanne.” After an enthusiastic applause from an invested audience, the bass line imparts more “bounce” than the version recorded for 1978’s Outlandos D’Amour. Ad-libbed murmurs can be faintly heard beneath the percussion as the the song takes flight. Sting’s vocals are resonant this time around, as he pleads for his lover in a sustained baritone. In a stylistic twist, he avoids going into his higher range for the famous repetitious chorus of “put on the red light” creating a more grounded and focused feel to the piece.

The album’s final moments end with about 10 seconds of applause, as if to signify Sting taking one final bow at the end of this record. For an artist celebrated across several generations, Sting shows that art can never truly set in stone on My Songs.

Follow writer Nick Gumas at Twitter.com/NickGGumas.

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