Thursday, November 24, 2016

Sting’s 57th and 9th Ninth in Billboard 200 Debut

The title of Sting’s latest album has proven to be partly prescient as 57th and 9th debuts in ninth place on the Billboard 200 chart for the week of December 3.

The new release marks the veteran superstar’s return to his rock roots, with a stripped down sound consisting primarily of bass and vocals (Sting), guitars (Dominic Miller, Lyle Workman), and drums (Vinnie Colaiuta, Josh Freese). The record also features some piano and organ, as well as additional guitars and vocals by Tex-Mex band The Last Bandoleros.

This is Sting’s first collection of original pop material in over a decade and his best since the 1990s.

--Raj Manoharan

Robert Vaughn (1932-2016)

The Thank You for Teenage Cave Man, U.N.C.L.E. in the 1960s and Fifteen Years Later, Superman III, The A-Team, and Pootie Tang Affair.”

--Raj Manoharan

Monday, November 14, 2016

57th and 9th (2016), by Sting

CD Fan Review

Not only is 57th and 9th Sting's first pop/rock album in over a decade, but it is also his first release as a senior citizen. (Sting is 65?! When did that happen?!)

In addition, this is Sting's first pop/rock record without synthesizers and horns.

So, aside from some piano and organ, as well as some extra instrumentation and orchestration on a deluxe edition bonus track, this is basically a guitar, bass, and drums affair, resulting in a different sound from Sting, or at least one we haven't heard from him in a while.

Featuring Sting's typically excellent bass work and standout performances from guitarists Dominic Miller and Lyle Workman and drummers Vinnie Colaiuta and Josh Freese (as well as some guitars and vocals from The Last Bandoleros), the songs have the feel of a mix of early raw Police, garage band rock, college radio, and '90s alt rock.

A couple of tunes even sound like modern Monkees songs. Yes, that's right. The Monkees. My two favorite tracks, “One Fine Day” and “Pretty Young Soldier,” could fit perfectly on The Monkees' 2016 album, Good Times! Sting would make a fine Monkee.

The most punk raucous song here, “Petrol Head,” is a mash-up of The Police's “Demolition Man” and Sting's “Love Is Stronger Than Justice.”

The record also features the requisite “slow” Sting songs, and while they're not quite on the level of his past pensive masterpieces (you know what those are), they're instant classics and worthy additions to his introspective repertoire.

Sting's voice here has a grit and grizzle indicative of his age, and although the album lacks the ethereal quality of his synthesizers and—for the most part—his multi-tracked multi-register vocals, Sting still sounds like Sting. And if you're a Sting fan, that's all that matters.

57th and 9th ultimately shapes up as Sting's best collection of original pop material since the 1990s.

Now if only Sting would combine his songwriting, bass playing, and singing on this album with Andy Summers' songwriting and guitar work on Circa Zero's Circus Hero (2014), and Stewart Copeland joined in on drums …

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Soul Cages (1991), by Sting

CD Retro Fan Review

While reevaluating all of Sting’s original studio albums in the run-up to his new release, 57th and 9th (November 11), I was amazed to rediscover the brilliance of his third solo album from a quarter century ago, The Soul Cages.

His first and second records, The Dream of the Blue Turtles and Nothing Like the Sun, have always held special places in my heart, especially since they came out when I was in middle school and high school, respectively.

But I had forgotten what an amazing and incredible album The Soul Cages is, with its pensive, brooding, and dark elegance and eloquence.

The title is no happenstance coincidence, as the record is the most personal and soul-searching of Sting’s post-Police works. It is also his most rocking album (when it rocks), with outstanding musicianship from his band, including Dominic Miller at his best in his first outing as Sting’s go-to guitarist.

In terms of thematic concepts and sonic style, The Soul Cages, which represents what a sixth original Police studio album might very well have sounded like, is without a doubt Sting’s unparalleled solo masterpiece.

As an intriguing afterthought, the three solo Police albums that are the most similar in terms of sound and feel are The Equalizer & Other Cliffhangers (1988) by Stewart Copeland, The Golden Wire (1989) by Andy Summers, and The Soul Cages (1991) by Sting.

--Raj Manoharan

A Quick Sting Primer in Time for His New Album

If you want to catch up quickly on Police vocalist/bassist Sting’s solo career before the November 11 release of his new album, 57th and 9th, here are a few suggestions.

Gordon Matthew Sumner’s best greatest hits collection is his first one, Fields of Gold from 1994. That’s because the majority of his most popular and enjoyable songs come from his first decade as an individual artist. This is where you’ll find such gems as “If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free,” “Fortress Around Your Heart,” “They Dance Alone,” and “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You.” The album also includes the exclusive bonus tracks “When We Dance” and “This Cowboy Song.” Plus, Police guitarist Andy Summers lends his atmospheric six-string savvy to “Be Still My Beating Heart.”

Next up is The Very Best of Sting & The Police from 1997. This disc mixes Sting’s solo hits with those from his Police heyday, giving listeners the opportunity to compare and contrast the sonic styles of the two eras. The album also includes “Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot” from Sting’s 1996 record, Mercury Falling, which, by the way, is his best original CD of the last 20 years.

The Very Best of Sting & The Police was “rereleased” in 2002, this time switching out a couple of Police tracks for different ones and updating the selection to include the singles “Brand New Day” and “Desert Rose” from Sting’s 1999 album, Brand New Day.

Finally, Symphonicities (2010) provides a unique perspective on Sting’s solo and Police hits, favorites, and rarities, with new versions featuring Sting backed by the rich, luxurious sound of a full orchestra.

I’ll see you on November 11 at 57th and 9th.

--Raj Manoharan

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Leopard Son (1996), by Stewart Copeland

CD Retro Fan Review

Although Police founder and drummer Stewart Copeland played all the instruments himself on his 1980s albums and soundtracks, he began to open up his sound quite a bit in the 1990s by bringing other musicians into the mix. Such is the case with his beautiful and majestic score to the popular nature documentary, The Leopard Son.

For this session, Copeland enlists his Animal Logic bandmate Stanley Clarke on acoustic bass, Michael Thompson on guitars, and Judd Miller on ethnic wind instruments, allowing the composer to focus on piano, drums, and percussion.

Copeland also ditches the synthesizers for real strings and horns courtesy of The Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael T. Andreas.

The immense talents of Stewart Copeland and his players result in an eclectic convergence of pop, rock, jazz, and classical music that, combined with the roars of big cats as well as a bit of classic Police-style reggae, conveys both the sweet intimacy and the fierce ferocity of life in the African wilderness.

--Raj Manoharan

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Equalizer & Other Cliffhangers (1988), by Stewart Copeland

CD Retro Fan Review

While his motion picture composing career was taking off, Police founder and drummer Stewart Copeland got to prove his chops further in homes across America with his hard-hitting, pulse-pounding score to the hit 1980s television series, The Equalizer.

Performed entirely by Copeland on guitar, bass, keyboards, synthesizers, drums, and percussion, the soundtrack is dark, ominous, and propulsive, making it a perfect accompaniment to scenes of hired avenger Robert McCall (Edward Woodward) delivering brutal beat-downs to New York City’s criminal element.

The music is somewhat similar to Jan Hammer’s groundbreaking score to the Miami Vice TV series, and the title theme and several other tunes here could have worked easily on that show. Copeland’s unique composing style is also kind of a cross between Hammer and Danny Elfman (Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Batman, The Simpsons). Perhaps this is due to the fact that Copeland, Hammer, and Elfman have backgrounds in pop, rock, and jazz fusion rather than classical music.

Of course, given Copeland’s primary instrumental vocation, the music is understandably much heavier on the drums and the percussion, and enjoyably so.

Highlights include “Screaming Lord Cole and the Commanches,” “The Equalizer Busy Equalizing,” and “Archie David in Overtime.”

This album is definitely a must-have for fans of The Equalizer and Stewart Copeland, as well as anyone who is interested in an alternative and highly stylized musical approach to 1980s prime-time television.

--Raj Manoharan