George Starostin's Reviews



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Jaime Vargas <> (02.07.2002)

I have a deep affection for this album, but still more for the one who would come after, the live Bring on the night. George, by all means, get it. It has all the good songs of Blue Turtles plus a bunch of Police obscure numbers, reworked to boot, and the band is the same.

By the way, of course you're right about the triteness of "Russians", but it must at least win some points for leading me to the discovery of Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kije Suite, one of the melodies of which is quoted for the instrumental break.

Bob Josef <> (07.07.2005)

The first, and probably best, of Sting's albums, establishes his new style, which he really hasn't varied much from since. A lot of people (including me) didn't really like it at first, because it certainly isn't rock. If there's any guitar at all, you certainly can't hear it. I don't think it sounds like the Police at all. But it certainy is tuneful, Sting's vocals are rich and full, and the songwriting is his most consistent post-Police. And the band is really good. The movie version of Bring on the Night, which documents rehearsals for the tour, gives one further insights into the album and the band and is really recommended.

The B-side of "..Set Them Free" was called "Another Day" (not the McCartney song!) and was left of the album. It should be added to the CD, because it really is a fun number with a really cool synth groove. I think a live version was included on the Bring on the Night CD.

Tagbo Munonyedi <> (22.08.2006)

It's really stretching it to call this a jazz album. It's kind of like Led Zeppelin's IN THROUGH THE OUT DOOR being voted as the top heavy metal album of 1979. But it's equally true to say that without jazz and fusion in particular, this album couldn't have existed. In parts, it's jazzy, the band {with Gordon Sumner on guitars !} are certainly jazz players in other spheres.....and Sting was a jazzer in a previous life.....I'd seen both Branford Marsalis {he was ok} and Omar Hakkim {he was sizzling} live and heard Kenny Kirkland on record and though I knew zilch about Daryl Jones, I'm fascinated that he surrounded himself with a group of, well, not egotistical, but very confident and shit hot players. It says alot for him and how, whatever one wants to say about his ego, what mattered to him was the music. In a telly interview I saw him do, he tells a story of how a group of Lithuanians accosted him and took him to task for leaving the Police. When they asked him why he'd left such a great band {according to Copeland, he never did actually leave, none of them did}, he retorted by asking them why they'd left the Soviet Union. I thought it was quite a canny reply, especially coming from a Northern Englishman to whom things are not always as they appear. And you can see in the same way that although the Police were loved, why Sting wanted out. It often seems better when one is looking on from afar. I heard him say that it was significant for him that the period of his life where he had the most success with the Police was the most unhappy of his life. But still, it took guts to leave a band not far past the heights of it's powers. But rather like the Beatles, there were just too many powerful personalities for one person to comfortably dominate and while Sting was the main writer, truth is that the Police were a band and each component was crucial to the overall picture. A classic song line of his turned out to be more than prophetic - " In this theatre that I call my soul/I always play the starring role". Indeed, it turns out that it was a manifesto. And I can see exactly the dilema he and the other cops faced. As the writer of a song, you might indeed know exactly how you want it to go because it's your baby and you've conceived it and it therefore becomes infuriating when your bandmembers play bolshie and want to contribute their own ideas that don't chime with yours. At the same time, I can see it from Stewart and Andy's point of view too; as creative, thoughtful progressive musicians, you feel the music that's presented to you and you see things that the author often can't see so to be told your ideas aren't wanted is like being told you're worthless. No wonder they sometimes came to blows ! Equally interesting is the fact that Sting regarded these players as a band {The Blue Turtles} but not {as he referred to the Police} a democracy. I'm no fan of Lou Reed's music but as a man with views I find him fascinating. And he made the point that he was not into the idea that rock was a young person's game; that rather, he was looking to take a mature adult view in his writing and this was really Sting's territory by the time of this album's making. I don't think too many artists have left a mega band and had great solo success in terms of quality though of course one man's meat is another man's poison and that's just my opinion. It took me a very long time to get into this album, a few years in fact, and then it was only coz I had a mate who played it incessantly while we'd chat and plan and it kind of slipped in subliminally. I really quite like the album. I realized I liked it long before I knew I liked it, if that makes sense ! I didn't think I'd ever dig the man's stuff after he went solo {I used to assume that solo automatically meant inferior}. And it took me even longer after that to get into CONSIDER ME GONE, LOVE IS THE 7th WAVE {is it ?} and MOON OVER BOURBON STREET but eventually it was mission accomplished. The former is still a bit one dimensional but Sting somehow manages to inject the right amount of tension. It's got a lovely piece of drumming at the end, simple but noticeable. The latter is still something of an effort for me but I love the lyrics. I swear he sounds like a more than dangerous stalker who is struggling mightilly to prevent himself committing the most heinous of crimes. I like his double bass though. The message of IF YOU LOVE SOMEBODY is the polar opposite of the big Police hit EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE and musically it's the same, completely the opposite, being exciting and dynamic with interesting twists and turns. It took me 11 years before I thought of BREATH as anything other than a boring one dimensional dirge; when it first got to no.1 in England, I was incredulous ! But I like it now. However, IF YOU LOVE... got to me much quicker, in fact, it's probably the first track I remember liking on the album, along with FORTRESS AROUND YOUR HEART. The latter has Sting's weird penchant for completely abandoning a melody in the verse part of the song, yet it is strangely melodic. It's like evesdropping on a conversation. And it's a beautiful song. The title track is a lively piece of jazz fusion that wouldn't have been out of place on some of Return To Forever's mid 70s records. I find it an interesting little tune that introduces some real jazz sensibilities to his audience without being a heavy crusader, partly coz it's a followable tune, partly coz it's short. SHADOWS IN THE RAIN is a cooking tune that shreds the Police's version. I do like their version but it starts to make my nerves crawl after they get to the instrumental with Sting's awful yelps. Whereas this version allows the musicians to let rip with some great plinking and honking. It's also five times as fast. The only place the original wins is in the way the lyrics come over; in this one, the song is just too joyous to sound mad. On the Zenyatta version, Sting really sounds psychotic. Maybe it's just me, but RUSSIANS has never sounded trite, pretentious or dated to my ears. I mean, obviously on one level, it's like songs about freeing Nelson Mandela or getting rid of Mrs Thatcher, yet there is something deeper than the immediate topic to hand. I remember when Yuri Andropov took over as the head of the Soviet Union, I was about 19 and watched the news which featured his first speech and I remember bursting out laughing coz he wasn't messing ! He so threatened anyone who dared oppose the USSR and for a while back there, I was shitting myself, especially when this BBC documentary "A Guide To Armageddon" came on telly a few months later; it was about exactly what would happen in the event of a nuclear explosion. The detail was worrying. And so was Andropov's "don't play with fire~I am fire !" stare. But really, this song seems to be about MAD~ the underlying concept of mutually assured destruction. It was impossible during the cold war to know exactly what was fact, what was Soviet bluff and what was Western propaganda and so one had to 'do a Sting' and arrive at one's own conclusions hopefully logically. All that aside however, it's a fantastic song, exquisite melody and arrangement and it would still be so if he were singing about cheap air travel. Ditto WE WORK THE BLACK SEAM TOGETHER. If I was to hazard a guess as to what it's about, I'd have to say the miners' strike of '84~'85. That was a defining moment in modern British history that still carries reverberations today. There's alot of romanticism attached too but however you look at it, it seems to me the point at which the north of England was dragged into modernity, with all it's supposed glories and unseen horrors, whether it wanted it or not. People are still raging about those years. It's intriguing to me that U2 wrote on the same subject around the same time; I notice that Sting and Bono wrote on many similar topics through the 80s, often at the same sort of time {this started while the Police were still a going concern}. Sting's song is sufficiently bleak, and beautifully so. As is another one of his commentaries of injustice, the excellent CHILDREN'S CRUSADE. Perhaps this is a naive viewpoint but I genuinely believe that popular music has educational value. There are loads of things that I've learned about first through hearing a reference in a song. Didn't know about the significance of either St Petersburg or Pontius Pilate until I heard SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL, didn't know about the national trust before hearing HAPPINESS IS A WARM GUN. And this song is one of those, if we allow ourselves to focus on the words.....but of course, it's not just a history lesson, like the the previous two album songs mentioned, it's set to what I consider to be superb music. The solo in the centre and the way Omar Hakkim drums in it is instrumentally my fave moment on the record. The players he used were on good form and unlike some of the 60s and 70s jazzers, were not not so highbrow that they couldn't play with a pop star and help him create some great music. Overall I really dig the album coz it's thematically, lyrically and musically diverse and I really like the way Sting was not prepared to live on his Police record or rest on his laurels.


Tagbo Munonyedi <> (22.08.2006)

Bit short for a double album, when I think about it. But there's so much quality here that I never think about it ! When I first heard it, I loved three sides and couldn't stand the side with LITTLE WING on it. Hearing the Coors and the Gil Evans orchestra versions caused me to slightly reappraise my view of it and I like it now. But the other two on it's side, SISTER MOON and SECRET MARRIAGE, brilliant as they are mean zilch to me; I can't bear either. But the rest of the album is awesome, though I love TEN SUMMONER'S TALES too. As annoying as some may find this, I regard the album to be every bit as diverse as any album the Beatles made and they are consistently the masters of diversity. Actually, it's kind of fitting that Sting had the guts to put his pop into so many forms coz he was first inspired to listen to rock and pop when the Beatles first hit {he was about 11 or 12} England and he was definitely one of their musical heirs and descendents. The difference is that his diversity is often demonstrated by combining genres within the same song, sometimes just for a few bars. LITTLE WING is funny; it brings to mind something George said about Hendrix not being much of a songwriter. I'd like to challenge that notion, but I can see where he was coming from. Hendrix did write good songs but he didn't, unlike so many bands, deliver the best versions of his own songs. What they have is great scope but it has often taken someone not so limited in form to really expansively bring out their true lovliness. The Coors version is sublime, the many Gil Evans versions {he did loads of great big band interpretations of Hendrix compositions} are singed with beauty and even Sting's one here adds better things than the original which was so short. Sting's playing on the guitar on the last album {it was quite subtle} may have come as a surprize to some, but in truth, he was always a guitarist. He turned to bass much later and by his own admission, it was merely a vehicle. I remember him saying he'd come as far as he could technically as a bassist {on this album, WING is the only one he doesn't play bass on}. He actually plays lovely guitar and his playing on FRAGILE bears this out. It's a lovely song that weaves such a demure atmosphere. It's melancholy is well placed. BE STILL MY BEATING HEART is part of a stream of songs that deal with those feelings that one tries so hard to control but can't and in a real way, don't really want to. It's mellow and atmospheric with lovely minimalistic guitar/sax interplay and very light echoes that are almost unnoticeable. I've never rated Sting much as a bassist; he generally does what has to be done. That's not to say he's rubbish, not at all. He's actually a good player, just not outstanding. But that's actually a compliment~he's so strong as a writer, singer, arranger etc, that bass becomes an integral element in most of his pieces without shining or jumping in your face. He put it that that he was in a strange position, controlling the top {melody, vocal} and bottom {bass} of songs that he writes. But occasionally he plays a great line and BE STILL is one of them. It's got this great line in it, "I've been to every single book I know/to soothe the thoughts that plague me so" that is one of those lines that works on different levels. Subtly implying that received wisdom can only go so far.... HISTORY WILL TEACH US NOTHING {he plays guitar here too} demonstrates how a barely moving bassline can be such a great foundation for a song. It subtly mutates into and moreorless stays at a line that calls to mind REHUMANIZE YOURSELF. It's a beautiful song with a reggae lilt and a message so bleak on the surface. It could be Kansas on POINT OF KNOW RETURN or Lennon on PLASTIC ONO BAND. But despite lamenting our penchant for repeating our stupidity {we are, after all, hopelessly human} it's lines contain powerful elements of hope. Does history teach us anything ? Or do we just ignore the lessons ? The intermittent snare slaps and percussive patterns are really well arranged. WE'LL BE TOGETHER is quite vibrant and dynamic and I love the way the organ is used. It's long been an overlooked instrument since the synthesizer mounted it's takeover bid but it's also been used extensively and often has cropped up in Sting's music. Believe it or not, this was actually written for a beer advert in Japan ! It's a love song to Trudie and it scans well but I really think the lyrics are some of his worst, they're so atrociously cliched. It's a good thing it's a great song.The lyrics improve substantially for one of the other love songs, STRAIGHT TO MY HEART, a marriage proposal on an album going worldwide, no less ! Imagine if Trudie had said no ! I've seen people propose on TV, at football matches, heard them do it on the radio etc in front of a national/global audience and I've long thought it's so unfair. It would take a heck of a gutsy person to say no, publically ! Good song though. There's so many words that the "come and be my wife" bit easilly gets lost in the barrage. Sting certainly had alot to say, it's one of the wordiest albums I have. One of my favourites on the album is ROCK STEADY. Even before I ever listened to the words I liked it. I love that mock jazzy supper club feel {reminiscent of Pink Floyd's SAN TROPEZ} with it's tinkly piano, non threatening horns, prominent cymbals and husky vocals. It at once takes the piss out of those telly evangelists, replaces the centrality of God with woman {a very 60s soul move}, explains why Sting always had problems with religion, shows he's not ignorant of some of the well known {and later on, lesser known} passages of scripture, yet is not disrespectful even though his tongue is firmly in his cheek. While I'd point out that knowing about religion and actually knowing God are two very different things {not to mention knowing what a particular faith is "about" and actually understanding and living it on a day to day basis}, I'd also say that Sting, to his credit has grappled with issues of God, the spiritual side of life and suchlike right from the start of his career. And one gets used to pokes at one's beliefs~it kind of goes with the territory. AN ENGLISHMAN IN NEW YORK is another mellow classic though that crazy middle part after the be~bop jazz is pretty avant garde, even though it's just a drum. Despite it's message of remaining oneself no matter what, Sting isn't above quoting the bible;"it takes a man to suffer ignorance and smile" being his adaptation of the proverb, "It is to a man's glory to overlook an insult". One of the harrowing mistakes that English missionaries made that still resonates to this day {interestingly Americans make the same error in the modern day} was introducing the notion that to be Christian was to be English/British and that Britishness was next to godliness and anything else was ignoble and savage and Britishness meant white. A far cry from the gospels.....In this song, the piss is taken out of the stiff upper lip of Englishness while remaining affectionate toward it. It also touches on the fascinating relationship that has long existed between England {let's be frank, more often than not, when the word 'British' is used, 'English' is what's really meant. Few people from Scotland or Wales call themselves British} and America in a beautifully lighthearted way. For an album with such seriousness on it, he didn't run short of good humour, a thread that can be traced back to lyrics like "and your brother's gonna kill me and he's six feet ten....". The melody is simple but hooky, unlike THE LAZARUS HEART. In fact, there's a couple of really bizarre sort of non melodies on the album, that are nevertheless attractive. I don't know how he managed it. People talk about jazz being really complex, but I've never found most of the jazz I've heard to be. I've heard prog and classical stuff that's far more complex, not to mention some Indian stuff and even some Celtic folk. And THE LAZARUS HEART is weirdly complex. I can hear the melody in my head but I can't sing it. It sounds like it was made up on the spot in just one take and even the music, if I were sitting down to play this on guitar or bass, I wouldn't know where to start. Mind you, on the "every day another miracle" Sting knocks out one of his most fantastic melodies and shadows that with my favourite bass line of his. It's magnificent. In fact, the entire song is. It hangs together so well, it's only when I tried to figure out each instrument that I realized how strange it all was. The weirdette of the music is shadowed by the lyrics and strange subject matter. Sting says he dreamed his Mum stabbed him and that set off his train of thought. It's thoughtfully disturbed state is well served by the arrangement with it's sudden time changes. In reading his autobiography, I've come to understand the import of a number of his songs. Stewart Copeland once said that Sting's ego was so big that it could be easilly seen from the moon but his book puts so many things into perspective; the relationship with his Mum, for example. This is one of the album's kingpins. Speaking of ex police, Andy Summers plays some tasteful guitar on LAZARUS {and BEATING}; on THEY DANCE ALONE, Eric Clapton and Mark Knopfler play along. For me it's the most beautiful song on the album, at once sensitive and strong. I know people go on about his preachiness but I'm suspicious of those who instantaneously discount passion of opinion as pretentiousness coz they dislike the opinion....I don't personally agree with alot of the man's views but I'm glad he states them. And good art incites all kinds of reactions, gets one angry, thinking, agreeable; challenges complacency or gets one to reappraise or strengthen one's position on particular matters. I was wondering the other day of how someone whose husband/dad/son/brother/cousin/friend had 'disappeared' under some of the brutal regimes of Argentina or Chile would receive a song like this. Would they be insulted ? Would they dismiss it ? Would they be glad ? Would they think of it as a kind of empathy or solidarity ? Because of the lovely arrangement {I think it implies the dignity of these women who dance alone} with it's variety of horns, pan pipes, synth strings, bass, drums, percussion, gorgeous melody and harmonies, spoken word Spanish and quietly impassioned vocal, I find myself lumpy throated almost whenever I listen to it. The tragedy of what the people had to go through is brought home more powerfully in song than many other comparable media. And it's slightly bouncy ending is a glorious way to take this lovely piece out in hope. There are few more teary choruses than the one in this song. This is the kind of stuff I wish they did play in lifts.

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