I picked up the latest Sting album, 57th & 9th, the other week. I play it when I work out, so I’ve had the opportunity to listen to it a number of times. I’ve deliberately not read or listened to any reviews so I could provide a balanced viewpoint in my own. It should be noted I’ve been a Sting fan all my life, so please bear that in mind as you read this.
The first thing that struck me when comparing 57th & 9th with Sting’s previous material is how stripped back it is. His recent reunion tour with The Police has been an obvious influence. I saw Sting playing live on TV the other night and he had a three-piece backing band supporting him as he played bass, rather than the large ensembles he usually tours with. The material on 57th & 9th has a leaner production and drier mix than previously (tighter, less involved arrangements and less reverb, for those not in the know).
The first time I heard this album I was in two minds. Part of me wanted to love it, and part of me felt it was a little…dull. Sting’s previous compositions tended to be slow and methodical, with sprinklings of odd time signatures and well crafted, intellectual and literary lyrics. That remains the case on 57th & 9th. There is an underlying poignancy to this album, the passage and inevitability of time a common theme in many of the songs.
The more upbeat material, I Can’t Stop Thinking About You, musing about old age and the search for love, and Petrol Head, with its speed-driven biblical allusions, break up the plodding feeling this album can have. In 50,000 Sting responds to the loss of Bowie while pointedly reflecting on his own fading star. One Fine Day is a catchy environmental song, where Pretty Young Thing is a period piece love story. One of the more potent songs on the album, Inshallah, tells about the plight of Syrian refugees fleeing from conflict, through the eyes of a father. If You Can’t Leave Me is a dark tale of possession, insecurity and self-doubt told in 7/8 time. The album is capped with The Empty Chair, an affecting tale of a prisoner separated from his family.
This time around Sting has written much of the material with co-writers from his backing band, and there’s a familiarity and leanness that is reflected in the songs. Perhaps age has mellowed him, making him a little less of a control freak than his various biographies would imply.
I liked this album. It’s mature, thoughtful, song writing that deeply resonates with me. If you give 57th & 9th a try I think it may with you, too.