It should have been a time for celebration. Sting, closing in on his 50th birthday and the end of a two-year tour, was performing a show at his villa in Tuscany for an intimate audience of friends and fans.
But this was no typical night; it was the evening of Sept. 11, 2001.
The performance was supposed to be both webcasted live and recorded for release on DVD and CD. But like almost everything else in the world that day, the concert didn’t feel that important. Sting and his 14-piece (!) band took the stage and performed only one song (the eerily appropriate “Fragile”) before shutting down the webcast and asking the audience if the concert should continue.
The audience overwhelmingly agreed that it should, and 15 songs from the show have been released as a live album, “–All This Time.” The emotionally charged performance stands as a testament to the healing power of music in times like the present.
Unfortunately, the album does not offer much beyond the sensitivity of the circumstances that surround its recording. Songs like “A Thousand Years” are truly beautiful and moving, but most other tracks are experiments that blow up in his face.
The main problem is Sting’s insistence on drastically re-working all the tunes in different styles. While the desire to try something new is understandable (just think about how many times the poor guy has had to play “Roxanne”), the new arrangements simply aren’t very good. The pop sensibilities of songs like “Brand New Day” and “All This Time” are replaced by smooth, jazzy arrangements that sound, for the most part, like Kenny G rip-offs (which isn’t a good thing, in case you are wondering).
Even worse than Sting’s half-hearted forays into jazz is his dabbling in other genres. The biggest embarrassment is “(If You Love Someone) Set Them Free,” which changes from Afro-Cuban to gospel faster than you can say “Sting, for the love of everything holy, please re-unite with the Police and drop this world music crap immediately.”
But the album is not without its highlights. I challenge anyone not to be moved by “Fragile,” which opens with the lines, “If blood will flow when flesh and steel are one/ Drying in the color of the evening sun/ Tomorrow’s rain will wash the stains away/ But something in our minds will always stay.” Emotionally opposed to this (yet just as moving) is the jubilant “If I Ever Lose My Faith,” the only song that benefits from newfound propensity to dabble.
Sting is an amazing live performer, but this rarely shines through on “–All This Time.” A better choice would have been to release a live album from one of the recent shows on his Brand New Day tour. Although the album is interesting as a musical representation of the world’s reaction to the events of Sept. 11, it never quite delivers the goods. But do not worry Sting, you are still the hottest man alive; I don’t care what People magazine thinks.