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Having achieved stardom as singer, bassist, and principal songwriter for the Police [see entry], Sting dissolved that band at the peak of its career in the mid-Eighties. Sting’s solo career is characterized by a restless yen to experiment and, by pop standards, take risks. He has sought to push the canny musicianship and affinity for exotic musical styles that distinguished his former group in directions that a trio could never have considered. Consequently, some have lamented the absence of the Police’s striking economy, just as they’ve found Sting’s literary and historical references pretentious. To his admirers, though, Sting’s post-Police projects have ensured his place among the most articulate and intuitive rock musicians of his generation.

For his first solo effort, The Dream of the Blue Turtles (#2, 1985), Sting enlisted a group of young jazz musicians, including saxophonist Branford Marsalis and Weather Report drummer Omar Hakim. The album was widely viewed as a reclamation of the musical turf Sting had covered while playing in jazz ensembles during his youth. But Turtles also drew on elements of classical music, funk, and perhaps most predictably, reggae. Moreover, the hit songs "If You Love Somebody Set Them Free" (#3, 1985) and "Fortress Around Your Heart" (#8, 1985) were as pop-savvy as any Police singles. The 1986 concert album and documentary Bring On the Night featured the players that Sting had assembled for Turtles offering live renditions of his new songs, as well as fresh takes on a few Police favorites.

... Nothing Like the Sun (#9, 1987), released shortly after Sting’s mother died and dedicated to her, featured a revised, expanded lineup of musicians dominated by Marsalis’ saxophone. As on Turtles, Sting often played guitar rather than his primary instrument, bass. A moody album full of dense, delicate orchestration, Sun spawned only one Top Ten single, the atypically funky "We’ll Be Together" (#7, 1987). (The album fared well in South America, though, thanks in part to its various Latin-flavored instrumental touches; hence the EP Nada Como el Sol, featuring tracks from Sun rendered in Spanish.)

The Soul Cages, inspired by Sting’s father’s death, was darker still, full of haunted ballads, religious imagery, and traditional English folk flourishes that embellished a newly spare foundation provided by guitarist Dominic Miller, keyboardist David Sancious, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, and Sting on bass. Again, an anomaly proved the one big hit: the upbeat "All This Time" went to #5. (On that single’s strength, the album peaked at #2.) Sting unexpectedly shifted gears for 1993’s breezy, buoyant Ten Summoner’s Tales (#2), which featured the same core of musicians who had appeared on Cages. The album went double platinum, yielding the hits "If I Ever Lose My Faith in You" (#17,1993) (which also won a Grammy) and "Fields of Gold" (#23, 1993). That same year, Sting shared a #1 megahit single with Bryan Adams and Rod Stewart, via "All for Love," from the film The Three Musketeers. An anthology, Fields of Gold, was released in 1994, featuring two previously unreleased tracks.

Equally unpredictable outside the studio, Sting supplemented his numerous film appearances (including Dune, Stormy Monday and Plenty) in 1989 by starring in a Broadway revival of The Threepenny Opera; four years later he opened a series of stadium shows for the Grateful Dead. What’s remained constant is his devotion to human-rights and environmental issues. In the late Eighties he not only toured with other stars to benefit Amnesty International but helped establish the Rainforest Foundation, and he has since crusaded to raise funds and awareness on behalf of the preservation of this endangered Brazilian territory.

Born Gordon Matthew Sumner, October 2, 1951, Newcastle, England

1985 -- The Dream of the Blue Turtles (A&M)
1986 -- Bring On the Night
1987 -- ... Nothing Like the Sun
1988 -- Nada Como el Sol EP
1991 -- The Soul Cages
1993 -- Ten Summoner’s Tales; Demolition Man soundtrack
1994 -- Fields of Gold: The Best of Sting
1999 -- Brand New Day


 


 

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