Sting’s “57th & 9th” – a review through the eyes of a jaded muso

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.

The Perils of Christian Dating (or “ask questions first and shoot after you’re married”)

(Alpha Girl reclines on the lounge and eyes me venomously. “So when are you going to get out and meet someone? I know it’s hard, you being a loser and all, but other people do it.”

Beta Max thumbs his Xbox controller and nods. “She’s right you know. You’ve been a hermit for too long, man.”

Through artful manipulation of multiple controller buttons I eliminate his on screen avatar, turn and smile at them both. “I’ll have you know that I’ve thought about that. I’m writing a blog about it later.”

Alpha Girl rolls her eyes. “Now you’ve started that blog you’re in the house even more than you were before. If you get out and meet a girl maybe you could move out. Or get a job. Or both.”

“Yeah,” says Beta Max. “Don’t forget to come over and play me on Xbox, though.”)

 

Two years ago I broke up with my wife. Around the same time I resigned my job of twenty plus years. It was more than a mid-life crisis – really a case of kicking myself in the balls for an extended period of time. Since then I’ve done a lot of soul searching, complemented by much self-loathing and despair. Aside from a good dose of psychological therapy, I also found comfort in God. I became a Christian, found a great church run by a good friend, and started getting my crappy life back together.

It’s been about ten years since I’ve been on a date with anyone other than my wife. I find that I’m struggling to work out how to do it, especially in light of my new found status.

I’ll lay it out for you: I’m mid-forties, fighting fit with a great gym bod (so I’m told), I’m reasonably good looking, reasonably smart, reasonably lovable, have no home, no possessions and little money (those last ones hurt), and have Christian values, so sex before marriage is off the table.

 

(“I thought your blog was to improve your writing,” cries Alpha Girl from the kitchen. “It’s just an excuse to meet women.”

“Whoa,” I reply. “That is not the reason – I’m providing context.”

Her head appears around the door. “And you thought I couldn’t get a rise out of you.”

Touche.)

 

So how do older Christians find someone to date? I guess I could meet someone at my local church. The ladies there are lovely, however all of them are either 1) too old, 2) too married or 3) both.

I spoke to a charming woman who told me a long story about meeting her husband via a Christian online dating service. Now I dabbled in online dating a few years back when my girlfriend (who later became my wife) and I split up briefly. It was a pretty depressing affair that sent me running back to her to propose (details? I went out with thirteen women in three months and none of them were a patch on her).

I can’t really hang out in clubs anymore because the average age of club goers appears to have dropped to that of teeny boppers, making me feel like a freaky old grandpa stuck in a literal twilight zone.

There’s another problem. Possibly the biggest (not that – get your mind out of the gutter).

I cannot read the signals that women give off. You know what I mean – when someone is interested in you they give you a few subtle signs and whammo, you know they like you. I am completely unable to spot these signals. Example: I remember a party some time ago where I sung an impromptu duet with a gorgeous girl. She told me how cute I was and I told her what a great singing voice she had. It wasn’t until after she split that I realised the error of my ways.

 

(“You pick up on my signals easily enough,” says Alpha Girl.

“Contemptuous disdain is one I can’t miss,” I reply. “Oh, a tautology. I’ll need to write that one down.”)

 

This has never really been a problem for me in the past. The women I’ve gone out with have expressed themselves in no uncertain terms (that is, hit me over the head with a pile driver and literally jumped me on the spot). This is what I like to call the “shoot first, ask questions later” approach.

Of course, being a Christian complicates things a bit. Since we’re going to get to know each other first (the “ask questions” component), and we’re not going to actually do the “shooting” bit, I have to learn how to interpret the signals to know if a woman likes me.

Having been blind to these signals for so long I’m concerned that I’m going to miss the love of my life unless she has a blazing neon sign attached to her head saying “It’s me!” In fact, I’m a bit worried I may have met her already and never recognised her because she didn’t have that aforementioned flashing sign on her.

So I’m praying for some pretty big signs. And a pair of big eyes so I can see properly.

And an eventual cure for my semi-patented disability.

And a woman who recognises the love in my heart. A woman who doesn’t care about a big bank account – and no, that is not a euphemism.

Here’s hoping.

 

(“I think I’m going to vomit,” says Alpha Girl.

“Didn’t like the sentimentality in that last line?” I say.

“No. I just don’t like you.”)

Real Men Play D&D (when their girlfriends aren’t looking)

So, I’m a nerd from way back (you wouldn’t know it now, I’m fit, healthy and a wee bit trendy). I have, however, accepted my nerdism and embraced it (to those still struggling with coming out as a nerd, I strongly suggest you take a good look at yourself and get over it. Don’t you know that geeks are in?).

Like many young nerds, I played Dungeons and Dragons, a tabletop fantasy role playing game and glowing beacon for nerdity everywhere. Now some of you reading this blog (if there are actually any of you), may be wondering just what this D&D thing is.

(Alpha Girl smirks as she sees me reading a copy of the D&D Player’s Handbook. “You are such a geek”, she says.

“But a well built one,” I reply.

“No amount of weight lifting is going to change the fact that you are lame.”

“And no amount of nastiness is going to change the fact that you can’t get a rise out of me.”)

A role playing game allows the players, gently guided (read: slaughtered) by a “Dungeon Master” (yes, it’s a stupid name), to take on the role of a character living in a sword and sorcery fantasy world. They fight monsters, grab treasure and generally live an impossible existence far more exciting than their real lives. The game doesn’t require a board, as it takes place in the imagination of the players. There are, however, large numbers of accessories to visualise the game (including miniatures, for the less imaginative).

D&D was the first fantasy role playing game. Created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson in 1974, it became the template for a plethora of RPGs that followed, both tabletop and electronic. Since the original incarnation there have been multiple versions/updates – the latest is Fifth Edition, called “5E” by its fans, for short. 5E was released two years ago and has been responsible for a resurgence in D&D’s popularity. Indeed, tabletop RPGs have entered a new renaissance, with electronic PDFs of old and new games and supporting materials sold online via sites like www.drivethrurpg.com.

But what does the game mean to me? I’m glad you asked. Let me take you back to 1981, when a skinny young kid came across a copy of Basic D&D in his local games shop. He took home the strange pink box (yes, a horrible colour, even then). “This game hasn’t got a board,” he said to his mum, feeling he’d been ripped off in some way.

I was the first guy in my school to own a copy. I played it with my friends, who had never heard of a game like this before. They were all slaughtered in the first room of my first dungeon (I had yet to learn that it’s was a good idea to have some players survive so that they might want to play again).

A year later I moved on to Advanced D&D, a more complicated, definitely more expensive, version of the game. By this stage I had tempered my Dungeon Mastering lust for player character doom with some compassion, so some of them managed to level-up – that is, advance in rank so that they could take on bigger, better and more dangerous monsters and dungeons. And possibly die a more horrible death.

AD&D was responsible for a vast improvement in my mathematical ability, due to ridiculous experience point calculations. AD&D, along with other nerd-like things, such as comics and Star Wars, helped forge in me a fevered imagination and creative bent. And a joy of writing.

(“Wait a minute,” says Beta Max. “Are you saying that this game makes you magically good at maths?”

“Not magically, but with a bit of work, yeah,” I reply.

“Oh,” says Beta Max. “For a minute there I was interested.”)

Even my son (a padawan nerd-in-training) has started playing. I harped on about the game for years and he finally created his first character the other week (a Half Orc Paladin who communicates in grunts and gestures and has a penchant for physically throwing his protesting Halfling Rogue comrade into battle). Needless to say he loved his first game. (Told ya so, son!)

Nowadays, I play D&D every week or two. It’s surprising how many “gamers” are out there. You probably know one. They may even outwardly look like a “cool” person. But don’t be mistaken: they are a nerdist in disguise.

I say embrace your inner geek. Don’t you know we will inherit the Earth?

Play on, fellow gamers.

(P.S. Lots of women play D&D as well. Ignore that stupid title, it’s supposed to be a joke. English spelling as well, haters!) 

 

So…why a blog?

Good question, I ask myself.

I’ve recently enrolled in two writing courses for Uni. I’ve written for work in a business capacity for years, and I wrote short stories in my youth. I guess I thought I should do something now that I’m semi-retired (that’s a nice way of saying unemployed).

I’ve been posting my assignment answers to the course discussion board, and some of the readers have been amused. So I thought maybe, just maybe, I could give blogging a go. Why not? The worst I could do is crash and burn. And it’s not like many people would notice (my guess is the traffic for this site will be one hit – by me).

And here I am. Ready for the big wide world with not a lot to say, but a hankering to say it anyway. (Oh, I should mention I’m a musician and composer – I love stuff that rhymes. It doesn’t have to be a good rhyme.)

I’m not political (much). I’m not charismatic. I’m not even a very good writer.

But, hopefully, I (that’s my one hit on the site!) will get a kick out of this.

And if I don’t, I’ll have a neat little online collection of blogs. Maybe I can self-publish them one day. Or not.

Welcome to my dreary little world!

%d bloggers like this: