Death sells, so it was a huge hit, dominating the airwaves, and sending Sting enough royalties to put his kids and any grandchildren he might one day have through college. He also had no qualms about appearing onstage with the featured performers at that year’s MTV Video Music Awards. It seems he was perfectly happy being considered current, especially since his last flirtation with R&B culture was when Eddie Murphy’s character sang “Roxanne” in 48 Hrs.
When he finally completed his next solo album, it fit the pattern of following a more serious statement with a blatant stab at contemporary pop. Brand New Day is another melding of grooves with world music influences, but although some of his stalwart studio companions appear, much of the sound is shaped by keyboards and electronics (almost as if someone had been enjoying Seal a whole lot) supplied by a guy named Kipper. There are trademark hooks under all the dressing, but one has to really listen for them.
It’s okay to start with; “A Thousand Years” simmers in with a hint of Arabic influences, taken to an extreme on “Desert Rose”, based around an Algerian vocalist and featuring a melody that ably straddles both major and minor keys. “Big Lie Small World” sports a delicate nylon string guitar plucked in 9/4, but mostly wanders for five minutes. The beats are getting a little tired by “After The Rain Has Fallen”, though it does have a classic Sting chorus to keep it snappy. But “Perfect Love… Gone Wrong” only offers variety in the French rap sections. (Yup, you read that correctly.) “Tomorrow We’ll See” has an introduction right out of a ‘50s Sinatra torch album, undermined by a faux-noir delivery.
A 20-second prelude to a song not on the album leads into “Fill Her Up”, another country-style morality tale. Something of a Lyle Lovett pastiche, with an appearance by James Taylor for no apparent reason, it detours into gospel for the plot twist, ending with a jazz solo and leaving the listener wondering what the hell just happened. “Ghost Story” contains enough mystery before becoming sadly overwhelmed by the electronics. Finally, the title track has become sadly overplayed thanks to the CBS Early Show. The use of Stevie Wonder on harmonica is fitting, considering that the song is a blatant ripoff of “I Was Made To Love Her”.
For those seeking musical wallpaper—and there sure are a lot of people who were, in view of the two Grammys it won—Brand New Day is the perfect solution. For those of us struggling to stay interested in Sting, we should have gotten off at the last stop.
Sting Brand New Day (1999)—2½