Category Archives: Sting

The Police: Synchronicity

ON THIS DATE (29 YEARS AGO)
June 1, 1983 – The Police: Synchronicity is released.
# ALL THINGS MUSIC PLUS+ 4.5/5
# Allmusic 4.5/5 stars
# Rolling Stone (see original review below)
Synchronicity is the fifth and final studio album by The Police, released on June 1, 1983. The band’s most popular release, Synchronicity includes the hit songs “Every Breath You Take”, “King of Pain”, “Wrapped Around Your Finger”, and “Synchronicity II”.  In 2001, the TV network VH1 named Synchronicity the 50th greatest album of all time. In 2003, the album was ranked number 455 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Pitchfork Media ranked it #55 in their list of The 100 Greatest Albums of the 1980s. In 2006, Q magazine placed the album at #25 in its list of “40 Best Albums of the ’80s”.
The album’s title was inspired by Arthur Koestler’s The Roots of Coincidence, which mentions Carl Jung’s theory of synchronicity. Sting was an avid reader of Koestler, and also named Ghost in the Machine after one of his works.
The album marked a significant reduction in the reggae influences that were a part of the band’s first four records, instead featuring production-heavy textures and liberal use of synthesizers that, at times, drove entire songs (“Synchronicity I”, “Wrapped Around Your Finger”). The influence of World music can also be heard in songs such as “Tea in the Sahara” and “Walking in Your Footsteps”.
As with their prior album, the basic tracks for Synchronicity were recorded at AIR Studios, Montserrat. For sound engineering reasons, the three band members recorded their parts in separate rooms: Copeland with his drums in the dining room, Sting in the control room, and Summers in the actual studio. According to co-producer Hugh Padgham, subsequent overdubs were done with only one member in the studio at a time.
During the recording of “Every Breath You Take”, Sting and Copeland came to blows with each other, and Padgham nearly quit the project.
ORIGINAL ROLLING STONE REVIEW
Synchronicity is a work of dazzling surfaces and glacial shadows. Sunny pop melodies echo with ominous sound effects. Pithy verses deal with doomsday. A battery of rhythms — pop, reggae and African — lead a safari into a physical and spiritual desert, to “Tea in the Sahara.” Synchronicity, the Police’s fifth and finest album, is about things ending — the world in peril, the failure of personal relationships and marriage, the death of God.
Throughout the LP, these ideas reflect upon one another in echoing, overlapping voices and instrumentation as the safari shifts between England’s industrial flatlands and Africa. “If we share this nightmare/ Then we can dream,” Sting announces in the title cut, a jangling collage of metallic guitar, percussion and voices that artfully conjures the clamor of the world.
Though the Police started out as straightforward pop-reggae enthusiasts, they have by now so thoroughly assimilated the latter that all that remains are different varieties of reggae-style syncopation. The Police and coproducer Hugh Padgham have transformed the ethereal sounds of Jamaican dub into shivering, self-contained atmospheres. Even more than on the hauntingly ambient Ghost in the Machine, each cut on Synchronicity is not simply a song but a miniature, discrete soundtrack.
Synchronicity’s big surprise, however, is the explosive and bitter passion of Sting’s newest songs. Before this LP, his global pessimism was countered by a streak of pop romanticism. Such songs as “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” and “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” stood out like glowing gems, safely sealed off from Sting’s darker reflections. On Synchronicity, vestiges of that romanticism remain, but only in the melodies. In the lyrics, paranoia, cynicism and excruciating loneliness run rampant.
The cuts on Synchronicity are sequenced like Chinese boxes, the focus narrowing from the global to the local to the personal. But every box contains the ashes of betrayal. “Walking in Your Footsteps,” a children’s tune sung in a third-world accent and brightly illustrated with African percussion and flute, contemplates nothing less than humanity’s nuclear suicide. “Hey Mr. Dinosaur, you really couldn’t ask for more/You were god’s favorite creature but you didn’t have a future,” Sting calls out before adding, “[We’re] walking in your footsteps.”
In “O My God,” Sting drops his third-world mannerisms to voice a desperate, anguished plea for help to a distant deity: “Take the space between us, and fill it up, fill it up, fill it up!” This “space” is evoked in an eerie, sprinting dub-rock style, with Sting addressing not only God but also a woman and the people of the world, begging for what he clearly feels is an impossible reconciliation.
The mood of cosmic anxiety is interrupted by two songs written by other members of the band. Guitarist Andy Summers’ corrosively funny “Mother” inverts John Lennon’s romantic maternal attachment into a grim dadaist joke. Stewart Copeland’s “Miss Gradenko,” a novelty about secretarial paranoia in the Kremlin, is memorable mainly for Summers’ modal twanging between the verses.
The rest of the album belongs to Sting. “Synchronicity II” refracts the clanging chaos of “Synchronicity I” into a brutal slice of industrial-suburban life, intercut with images of the Loch Ness monster rising from the slime like an avenging demon. But as the focus narrows from the global to the personal on side two, the music becomes more delicate — even as the mood turns from suspicion to desperation to cynicism in “Every Breath You Take,” “King of Pain” and “Wrapped around Your Finger,” a triptych of songs about the end of a marriage, presumably Sting’s own. As the narrator of “Every Breath You Take” tracks his lover’s tiniest movements like a detective, then breaks down and pleads for love, the light pop rhythm becomes an obsessive marking of time. Few contemporary pop songs have described the nuances of sexual jealousy so chillingly.
The rejected narrator in “King of Pain” sees his abandonment as a kind of eternal damnation in which the soul becomes “a fossil that’s trapped in a high cliff wall/ … A dead salmon frozen in a waterfall.” “Wrapped around Your Finger” takes a longer, colder view of the institution of marriage. Its Turkish-inflected reggae sound underscores a lyric that portrays marriage as an ancient, ritualistic hex conniving to seduce the innocent and the curious into a kind of slavery.
“Tea in the Sahara,” Synchronicity’s moodiest, most tantalizing song, is an aural mirage that brings back the birdcalls and jungle sounds of earlier songs as whispering, ghostly instrumental voices. In this haunting parable of endless, unappeasable desire, Sting tells the story, inspired by the Paul Bowles novel The Sheltering Sky, of a brother and two sisters who develop an insatiable craving for tea in the desert. After sealing a bargain with a mysterious young man, they wait on a dune for his return, but he never appears. The song suggests many interpretations: England dreaming of its lost empire, mankind longing for God, and Sting himself pining for an oasis of romantic peace.
And that is where this bleak, brilliant safari into Sting’s heart and soul finally deposits us — at the edge of a desert, searching skyward, our cups full of sand.
~  Stephen Holden (June 23, 1983)
TRACKS:
All songs written by Sting except where noted.
“Synchronicity I” – 3:23
“Walking in Your Footsteps” – 3:36
“O My God” – 4:02
“Mother” (Andy Summers) – 3:05
“Miss Gradenko” (Stewart Copeland) – 2:00
“Synchronicity II” – 5:02
“Every Breath You Take” – 4:13
“King of Pain” – 4:59
“Wrapped Around Your Finger” – 5:13
“Tea in the Sahara” – 4:19
“Murder by Numbers” (Words: Sting, Music: Andy Summers) – 4:36 (Not included on original LP release.)

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Dire Straits: Brothers in Arms

ON THIS DATE (27 YEARS AGO)
May 13, 1985 – Dire Straits: Brothers in Arms is released.
# ALL THINGS MUSIC PLUS+ 4.5/5
# allmusic 4/5
# Rolling Stone (see original review below)
Brothers in Arms is the fifth studio album by Dire Straits, released on this date in May, 1985. The first half of the album is a development of their unique brand of rock which had evolved in their music since the 1980 album Making Movies, while the second half consists of more folk-influenced material. The whole album maintains the original Dire Straits’ bluesy and laid back guitar-based style whilst employing a more lavish production and overall sound.
Brothers in Arms charted number 1 worldwide, spending ten weeks at number one on the UK Album Chart (between 18 January and 22 March), nine weeks at number one on the Billboard 200 in the U.S. and thirty-four weeks at number one on the Australian Album Chart. It is the seventh best-selling album in UK chart history; is certified nine times platinum in the United States; and is one of the world’s best selling albums having sold 30 million copies worldwide.
Q (6/00, p.71) – Ranked #51 in Q’s “100 Greatest British Albums”
Q (7/96, p.141) – 5 Stars – Indispensable – “…the commercial and artistic culmination….repeated listening reveals it as [a] singularly melancholic collection…where joy is as sharp as sorrow…”
ORIGINAL ROLLING STONE REVIEW
Except for their swell debut hit single, “Sultans of Swing,” in 1979, the British band Dire Straits has never come as much of a surprise. And, then, what caught you off guard was how much the singer sounded like Dylan. Brothers in Arms, their first studio album since Love over Gold three years ago, offers more of their winsomely rocking tunes. The band is augmented by bassist Tony Levin, Weather Report drummer Omar Hakim, a horn section, which includes the Brecker Brothers, and some thirteen different keyboards that are used to explore orchestral textures. Carefully crafted instead of raucous, pretty rather than booming, and occasionally affecting, the record is beautifully produced, with Mark Knopfler’s terrific guitar work catching the best light. The lyrics are literate, but the scenarios aren’t as interesting as they used to be on records like Making Movies, still the band’s most solid LP.
Side one has the most driving songs: the bouncy “Walk of Life,” a Fifties rock & roll song about cool Fifties rock & roll songs that features a cheesy organ sound, and “So Far Away,” a missive from a distant town, with a catchy bass line rumbling underneath it. After a grandiose introduction, “Money for Nothing” shows what a guy who moves refrigerators for a living thinks of the rock stars on MTV. “See the little faggot with the earring and the makeup/Yeah buddy that’s his own hair/That little faggot got his own jet airplane/That little faggot he’s a millionaire,” the guy mutters, while Knopfler’s guitar grinds out his irritation. The guitar turns delicate for the gentle “Why Worry,” a song that’s as soft as a sigh.
Side two, made up of four songs about men and war, is more ambitious and less successful. Knopfler practically whispers the lyric to “Brothers in Arms” but never turns out images that catch your eye; the music’s lovely, though, with the electric guitar cutting patterns in a soft-toned background. But no telling metaphors are found in this quartet of songs, and the music lacks the ache that made Knopfler’s recent soundtracks for Comfort and Joy and Cal so powerful.
~ Debby Bull (July 4, 1985)
TRACKS:
All songs written by Mark Knopfler, except where indicated.
Side one             
1.            “So Far Away”  3:59
2.            “Money for Nothing” (Knopfler, Sting)   7:04
3.            “Walk of Life”    4:12
4.            “Your Latest Trick” 4:46
5.            “Why Worry” 5:22
Side two             
6.            “Ride Across the River” 6:58
7.            “The Man’s Too Strong” 4:40
8.            “One World” 3:40
9.            “Brothers in Arms” 7:00

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October 13, 1987 – Sting: …Nothing Like the Sun is released.

ON THIS DATE (24 YEARS AGO)
October 13, 1987 – Sting: …Nothing Like the Sun is released.
# ALL THINGS MUSIC PLUS+ 5/5
# Allmusic 4.5/5 stars
# Rolling Stone 4.5/5
…Nothing Like the Sun is a 1987 album by Sting. The title comes from Shakespeare’s Sonnet #130 (“My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun”), which Sting used in the song “Sister Moon”. He added that his inspiration for this was a close encounter with a drunk, in which Sting quoted the sonnet in response to the drunk’s importunate query, “How beautiful is the moon?”
The album was influenced by two events in Sting’s life: first, the death in late 1986 of his mother, which contributed to the sombre tone of several songs; and second, his participation in the Conspiracy of Hope Tour on behalf of Amnesty International, which brought Sting to parts of Latin America that had been ravaged by civil wars, and introduced him to victims of government oppression. “They Dance Alone (Cueca Solo)” was inspired by his witnessing of public demonstrations of grief by the wives and daughters of men missing in Chile, tortured and murdered by the military dictatorship of the time, who danced the cueca (the traditional dance of Chile) by themselves, with photos of their loved ones pinned to their clothes. “Be Still My Beating Heart” and “The Lazarus Heart” approach the subjects of life, love and death and also featured Police guitarist Andy Summers. Elsewhere on the album, “Englishman in New York”, in honour of Quentin Crisp, continues the jazz-influenced music more commonly found on Sting’s previous album, as does “Sister Moon”.
The album’s first single and biggest hit, “We’ll Be Together” (reportedly not one of Sting’s favorites), sported a prominent dance beat and funk overtones; it reached #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in late 1987 and even crossed over to the R&B charts. Overall, the album’s sales now stand at over 2 million, making it one of Sting’s best-sellers.
The album also inspired a Spanish/Portuguese counterpart, the 1988 mini-album Nada Como el Sol. It featured four of the songs from the album sung in either Spanish or Portuguese and in the case of “Fragile”, both languages.
Three years after its initial release on both the album and in single form, “Englishman in New York” was remixed in mid-1990 by Dutch producer Ben Liebrand, apparently to increase Sting’s commercial viability after a two-year absence in the charts. Providing a stronger dance beat, as well as an extended introduction, the song was a hit in clubs and reached number 15 on the UK pop charts. The maxi-single also included a dance remix of “We’ll Be Together” as a B-side.
…Nothing Like the Sun was one of the first fully digital audio recordings (DDD) to achieve multi-platinum status. It is also Sting’s biggest-selling album yet, with worldwide sales of 11 million copies as of 1997. The album won Best British Album at the 1988 Brit Awards.
ROLLING STONE REVIEW
By Anthony DeCurtis, January 22, 1997 (4.5/5)
… Nothing Like The Sun — a powerful, often hypnotic album that blends jazz and rock styles into a thoughtful suite of twelve songs about love, politics and the meaning of the individual life — avoids the self-conscious stiffness that marred Sting’s first solo LP, The Dream of the Blue Turtles. Whereas that album often seemed to be merely the sterile enactment of its fusion-jazz ambitions, … Nothing Like the Sun flows naturally.
The album’s title comes from a sonnet by Shakespeare that begins with the line “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.” Against the extravagant imagery of much Elizabethan love poetry, that sonnet articulates a human-scale vision of love for a flesh-and-blood woman who, far from standing on a pedestal, “treads on the ground.” Similarly, on … Nothing Like the Sun, Sting resists, for the most part, his tendency to drift into the mystic. Instead he locates the LP’s songs in an uneasy three-dimensional world of unruly emotions (“Be Still My Beating Heart,” “Sister Moon”), nightmarish social systems (“History Will Teach Us Nothing,” “They Dance Alone”) and personal commitment (“The Secret Marriage”).
Sting dedicates … Nothing Like the Sun to his mother, who died recently at fifty-three, and the songs about women on the record seem informed by the mother-son bond and the double-edged impact of its breaking at birth, marriage and death. “The Lazarus Heart,” the album’s shimmering opening track, weds Freud and The Golden Bough in its mythic dream of an artist whose creativity derives from a wound inflicted by his mother. The Chilean women in the stately “They Dance Alone” dance in mournful celebration of their husbands, sons and fathers, who were jailed or killed by the Pinochet regime.
For his band on … Nothing Like the Sun, Sting has carried over saxophonist Branford Marsalis and keyboardist Kenny Kirkland from the jazz outfit that backed him on The Dream of the Blue Turtles. He plays bass himself and has recruited drummer Manu Katché, percussionist Mino Cinelu and a host of guest stars (including Andy Summers, Eric Clapton and Mark Knopfler). The arrangements are airily layered, with instruments and rhythms constantly doubling and counterpointing each other but never becoming so dense as to be stifling. Lively percussive currents keep songs like “Straight to My Heart” and “Rock Steady” moving along briskly.
The instrumental textures and introspective tone of the album preclude any explosive soloing or improvisation; that is something of a shame given the presence of players of the caliber of Marsalis and Kirkland. One of the more appealing surprises on the record, however, is guitarist Hiram Bullock’s lyrical soar during a startling cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing.” Gil Evans and his orchestra provide the perfect atmospheric setting for Sting’s eerie meditation on Hendrix’s surreally poetic love song.
… Nothing Like the Sun is also one of those records that help define a point of technological transition. Simply stated, it must be heard on compact disc — or, as a very distant second choice, on cassette. At fifty-four minutes, it’s too long for a single vinyl album, and spread thinly over four sides, it breaks too often and abruptly to sustain its otherwise consistent mood. The CD version also allows a greater appreciation of the record’s choice sonic details.
In any configuration, however, … Nothing Like the Sun represents impressive growth for Sting. His voice is rich, grainy and more mature; his ideas are gaining in complexity; and musically he is stretching without straining. His mistress’s eyes may be nothing like the sun, but on this fine new album Sting’s intrepid talent shines on brightly.
TRACKS:
All songs by Sting except as noted.
Side one
“The Lazarus Heart” – 4:34
“Be Still My Beating Heart” – 5:32
“Englishman in New York” – 4:25
Side two
“History Will Teach Us Nothing” – 4:58
“They Dance Alone” – 7:16
“Fragile” – 3:54
Side three
“We’ll Be Together” – 4:52
“Straight to My Heart” – 3:54
“Rock Steady” – 4:27
Side four
“Sister Moon” – 3:46
“Little Wing” (Jimi Hendrix) – 5:04
“The Secret Marriage” (Eisler, Sting) – 2:03
B Sides
“Ghost In The Strand” (Englishman In New York 7″/ Maxi Single)
“Ellas Danzan Solas” (They Dance Alone Maxi Single)
“If You There” (They Dance Alone 7″)
“Conversation With A Dog” (We’ll Be Together 7″/ Maxi Single)
“Someone to Watch Over Me” (Englishman in New York 3-inch CD single)
“Up from the Skies” (Jimi Hendrix cover with Gil Evans and His Orchestra, Englishman in New York 3-inch CD single)

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