Monday, May 7, 2012

Sting 4: The Soul Cages

It was mentioned, but not belabored over, that Sting’s mother died during the gestation of his last album. So The Soul Cages emerged from the succession and aftermath of his father’s death. Much of the album takes place in Newcastle, where he grew up near the shipyards. Most of his peers would have ended up working there, but not Sting, who likely incurred his father’s contempt by dallying with jazz groups and pop combos.
Even though the references are overt, Stingy makes sure to hide the narrative behind references to “Billy”, who watches his father toil on the docks with little hope of reward, dreaming of salvation for the both of them on the “Island Of Souls”. “All This Time” was a catchy single, with enough of a commercial sound to make it a hit, while wishing he could “bury the old man at sea”. “Mad About You” is an obsessive love song on the surface, but there’s an awful lot of wordiness to make you think there’s something else going on. It ends before you can belabor it too much, for the toe-tapping boogie of “Jeremiah Blues (Part 1)”, an apocalyptic tale emitting sound and fury but signifying nothing past a great groove. “Why Should I Cry For You?” is an elegant eulogy.
While he takes sole writing credit, the instrumental “Saint Agnes And The Burning Train” is an acoustic Spanish guitar instrumental played by Dominic Miller that kills a few minutes in its pleasant way. It’s not clear if the title refers to a person or a town, and maybe we’ll never know. “The Wild Wild Sea” does continue the allegorical story somewhat, moving you along with the gentle rocking of waves. The Northumbrian pipes re-appear at the fade, making a nice segue to the title track. To begin with, this tune absolutely rocks, which Sting hadn’t done for a while. The beat positively cooks, through some surprising pre-choruses and other sections. But the triumph comes about two-thirds of the way through, where he reprises the melody from “Island Of Souls” (“And he dreamed of a ship on the sea”) for an incredible release that will stand the hair on your neck. It’s not clear whether “Billy” wins the bet with the fisher king, but the gentleness of “Where The Angels Fall” suggests that everything has worked out for the best. A crescendo enforces a resolution, with a suggestion from “All This Time”, a sung wish for “peace on earth”, and even a closing “good night”.
The Soul Cages arrived in the dead of winter, delivering a little more rock than the smooth jazzy stuff he’d done before or since. It boasts a stripped-down sound, consisting of guitar, bass, keyboards and drums. Even Branford Marsalis, who most people thought of as his foil, is heard sparingly. The nice use of English folk instruments keeps it stark and simple. It seems to be over before you know it, but boy, is it subtle. Maybe it took sadness to pull it out of him, but so far, he was three for three.

Sting The Soul Cages (1991)—

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