The Sting of today bears almost no resemblance to the Sting of yesteryear.
Over the course of a decade, Sting managed to distance himself from his jazz-tinged rock origins and move to the realm of jazz-tinged adult contemporary. The British singer has reinvented himself to a tremendous response, as evidenced in his Grammy-winning 1999 release “Brand New Day.”
Yet at age 52, Sting has been caught in the inertia of success. He makes a valiant effort to innovate in his new album “Sacred Love,” enlisting the help of world-renowned artists — including famed sitar player Anoushka Shankar, Latin guitarist Vicente Amigo and even R&B star Mary J. Blige. In the end, however, he ultimately sounds like exactly what he is: an aging artist unable to deliver anything new.
That’s not to say that “Sacred Love” is not a solid album. Through careful planning, Sting has produced an album that, much like “Brand New Day,” represents an intersection of world, jazz, gospel and Latin beats. The track “The Book of My Life,” a collaboration with Shankar, reflects this musical richness especially well. In riveting harmony, the staccato chords of Shankar’s sitar punctuate Sting’s softly passionate voice.
In addition to the musical richness, Sting tackles the standard themes of love and spirituality. Also, not surprising from one of the headlining performers of the musicians-for-humanitarian-aid concert Live Aid, he injects several of his tracks with political commentary as well. He’s particularly daring on the track “This War,” where he sends verbal missiles at President Bush’s war in Iraq, such as, “Your daddy was a businessman/ You know the war can make you rich my friend/ In dollars, pounds, and cents.”
Even with its powerful messages, “Sacred Love” is far from perfect. The Mary J. Blige collaboration “Whenever I Say Your Name,” for example, like the tracks “Inside” and “Dead Man’s Rope,” attempts to translate the repetition of words and musical themes into art. But while it works on “Inside,” it simply makes “Whenever” seem like an endless barrage of the same words. In a matter of five minutes and 25 seconds, Sting and Blige squeeze in the word “whenever” a total of forty-six times. It’s a shame because although the song starts off strong, playing off Blige’s husky, energetic vocals and Sting’s more low-key, yet equally soulful style, it then deteriorates into repetitively generic pseudo-R&B.
The tracks on this album can also be all too reminiscent of its predecessor. In fact, “Send Your Love,” the first single off the album, sounds almost like a fraternal twin to the ubiquitous “Brand New Day” single “Desert Rose,” featuring Oriental rifts that hearken back to the Algerian trills of “Rose.”
“Sacred Love” indeed has much to offer, delivering a thoughtful and diverse collection of songs. However, Sting’s affinity to tried-and-true formulas may wear out listeners in the long run, and “Sacred Love” may just hint at the difficulty he might have finding newer and fresher material to release.