Friday, August 24, 2012

Sting 7: Mercury Falling

This far into his solo career, it seemed that Sting’s “good” albums would alternate with the ones that sold. Mercury Falling echoes the heavier sound of The Soul Cages, while adding some of the country-western touches hinted at on Ten Summoner’s Tales. For the most part, he stuck to the same unit, with Dominic Miller on guitar and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, with Kenny Kirkland returning on keyboards. And of course, Branford Marsalis contributes some saxophone.
A drum roll introduces “The Hounds Of Winter”, a toe-tapper despite its dour title and lyric lamenting the loss of a woman. The same description could also apply to the next track. Yes, “I Hung My Head” is in 9/8 and no, you can’t dance to it. Instead, the inside-out meter forces the listener to consider the story of a man who literally plays with a gun and has to deal with the aftermath. “Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot” is the obvious single for adult contemporary radio, the “soul” horns in the music playing off the word in the title. “I Was Brought To My Senses” has a lengthy intro in the vein of such English folk tunes as “She Moved Through The Fair”, before shifting to a slightly, lightly Latin beat in seven, redeemed by its chorus. The Stax vibe returns on “You Still Touch Me”, though the single-note verse melody reminds us of a John Lennon melody we can’t quite place. “Mind Games” maybe?
The second half of the album offers another country-style tune, and indeed, Toby Keith would record a hit cover of “I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying”. While it starts on the melancholy side, the pedal steel both complements the narrator’s tears and pulls him out of his post-divorce funk (adding the excellent advice, “everybody’s got to leave the darkness sometime”). “All Four Seasons” is a strong bid to write a soul standard, and we’re convinced he wrote “La Belle Dame Sans Regrets” entirely in French just because he’d woken up that morning and thought, “I’m going to write a song in French today.” At the same time, we’d like to think “Valparaiso” is an ode to the Indiana university’s basketball team, but it’s more likely about the Chilean coast. The Northumbrian pipes and reference to the dog star, again, recall the sea-based songs of two albums previous. And indeed, it does evoke an ocean voyage. “Lithium Sunset” is the shortest song on the album, and a fitting end, complete with a reference to the album title to mirror the one at the start of track one.
It’s easy to pick on Sting, because after all, he’s Sting. But Mercury Falling is one of his better efforts, the kind where you find yourself reaching for the play button after each time it finishes. What’s unknown is why the world outside North America got an extra song stuck in the middle of the second half, except that it’s another horn-heavy number in seven, with cliché lyrics about a train.

Sting Mercury Falling (1996)—


  1. This was the point in time where I decided I had enough Sting albums...

  2. I haven't decided whether to skewer the rest of his career or just leave on a high note.