Sting’s 57th & 9th: Still Singing About the North

sting-and-his-classmates-including-tony-bianchi-at-st-cuthberts-grammar-school-in-1963

Despite being originally disappointed, I have really enjoyed listening to Sting’s new album over the last few days. Although understandably lauded as his first venture into out and out rock music in over a decade, it was gratifying to see that he had not lost touch of his relationship with the North on the album – the main focus of much of my forthcoming book! A few of the reviews in the major papers regard the track ‘Heading South on the Great North Road’ as an unused offcut from The Last Ship, but for me, it is proof that his excursion into the persona of his ‘former self’ is in fact not a fad, but part of a genuine, gradual movement that has been taking place since at least The Soul Cages. Like tracks such as ‘Why Should I Cry for You’ – this track echo’s the real life experience of many Geordies.

This ‘movement south’ is something so many of us musical Geordies have experienced over the decades, with some finding ways to stay in London (and music) and others either moving home or deciding to go elsewhere. So I applaud Sting for including it – although I accept it won’t be a popular choice with everyone.

I suppose when listening to some of the more rock based songs such as the ‘I Can’t Stop Thinking About You’, it can’t fail but remind us of the heyday of The Police, but there is one thing missing – his music no longer captures the universal zeitgeist – and I would imagine he doesn’t care? If he was to do this today, the music would not sound like the Synchronicity of the early 80s, but the music of a far more manufactured industry.

In addition to the Geordie theme, the album also has elements one has come to expect in Sting’s music, including narratives about creativity/writers block (I Can’t Stop Thinking About You’, the refugee crisis and mortality (’50,000 Voices’). Additionally, the album also features the often subliminal complexity Sting has become known for – listen to the additive rhythm in the verse of ‘Down Down Down’ or the 7/8 lilt of ‘If You Can’t Love Me’ and you will see what I mean.

So, it was great to see Sting return to his rock ‘n’ roll roots, but I expect future releases will continue to reflect the north – at least I hope so. For me, the highlight track is the mournful ‘The Empty Chair’ – simply beautiful!

Note: Photo courtesy of Tony Bianchi – donated to my book in its full version!

About Paul Carr

Academic working at the University of Glamorgan
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