Always known as a musical explorer, pioneering genre-bending sounds and collaborations, 17-time Grammy Award winner Sting will release a new album, entitled Duets, on March 19, 2021.
From the melismatic longing of “Desert Rose” with Rai music singer Cheb Mami and sultry groove of “It’s Probably Me” with Eric Clapton to the uplifting 44/876 with Shaggy, which yielded his most recent and 17th GRAMMY award, Sting’s collaborations have become nothing short of cornerstones in the canon of popular music. To celebrate some of these joint-works, he has compiled a special collection to include some of his most beloved duets with collaborators such as Mary J. Blige, Herbie Hancock, Eric Clapton, Annie Lennox, Charles Aznavour, Mylène Farmer, Shaggy, Melody Gardot, Gashi and more. The Duets album will also include the brand new, never-before-released song, “September” with Italian icon Zucchero, produced by Sting himself and mixed by 4-time Grammy Award winner Robert Orton. Full album track listing is included below.
Duets was Executive Produced and A&R’d by Guénaël “GG” Geay & Martin Kierszenbaum with all songs mastered by Gene Grimaldi at Oasis Mastering, Los Angeles, United States.
At 69 years of age and over 7 million monthly listeners on Spotify, English musician Sting would appear to have a fair amount of pull in the music industry. A look at the guest performers on his new compilation album, Duets, confirms the distinctive vocalist’s tenured clout as a musician’s musician.
Duets covers roughly the past 20 years, exclusively focusing on Sting’s work with other major recording artists. During this period, hit songs were a rarity for Sting, but collaborations were frequent and fruitful. Duets nicely places more adventurous, obscure material alongside successful singles and unit shifters. Sting ventures into jazz, soul and international beats, highlighting lesser-known talents like Algerian raï artist Cheb Mami on “Desert Rose.” This sits alongside “Don’t Make Me Wait,” a song from his 2018 joint album with Shaggy, 44/876, a record which revitalized both artists’ sales.
It’s not within the scope of Duets to present a particular musical direction or storytelling arc. The anthology is certainly no concept album, nor does it attempt to work from a theorem or happenstance to explore a particular mood or atmosphere. Instead it offers a collection of carefully cultivated pop vocal performances. As such, the songs should be appreciated individually as singular works.
The record succeeds in emphasizing collaborative magic over star power. More under-the-radar artists like Melody Gardot and Mylène Farmer appear early in the running order, while heavy hitters like Annie Lennox and Shaggy emerge in the middle of the album. The songs on Duets cannot easily be categorized as belonging wholly to Sting. Each takes on a life of its own, and infuses the character of its guest performer.
This emphasis on channeling charismatic and lionized performers of the past half-century brings real joy to the proceedings. Highlight “None Of Us Are Free” boasts a powerful vocal from the legendary Sam Moore of Sam & Dave fame. The weary but determined blues vibe of the song also provides a reprieve from the collection’s tendency toward driving, modern beats.
Similarly, the undeniable Mary J. Blige oozes exuberance on “Whenever I Say Your Name.” Both Blige and Sting take the opportunity to play to their strengths. Sting begins the tune with a characteristically moody, subtle verse. Imperceptibly, the song morphs into a borderline funk romp, pushing Blige’s power vocals to the fore.
Though vocalists are emphasized, a handful of guests make their contributions instrumentally. Jazz trumpeter Chris Botti pops up on the closing track. Sting dusts off show-tune “My Funny Valentine” with a tasteful contribution from one of the greats, Herbie Hancock. On the smoky “It’s Probably Me,” a duet for voice and electric guitar, rock legend Eric Clapton appears providing restrained blues licks and evocative phrasings. Nominated for a Grammy in 1993, “It’s Probably Me” perfectly captures Sting’s bourgeois-hippie appeal. Baroque scales and acoustic instruments echo like a chamber performance at some shadowy vineyard.
Elsewhere, Sting makes songs better by hanging back to swell the progress. Sleeper “Practical Arrangement” works well as a film-musical plot piece. Guest vocalist Jo Lawry channels the hard-won convictions of the female lead. Through back and forth conversational lyrics, Lawry and Sting highlight the difficulty of embarking on a mutually committed journey. Sting’s character asks for responsibility and trust, but is rebuked with penetrating questions. Yet Lawry’s believable treatment of appropriate boundary-setting still carries enough warmth to hint at redemption.
Such organic pithiness underpins the majority of Duets’ songs and performances. At a certain point, or for certain listeners, it’s not enough to save the record from its glistening production value. Though no less than we’d expect from Sting at this point, a few songs come across as hookless and overproduced. Sterile dance beats creep in where they aren’t particularly needed.
The strangely cold “September,” for example, wavers between pastoral musing and dance-floor pep. Continental bluesman Zucchero matches the timbre of Sting’s voice in Italian, but a viscous under-beat recurs to interrupt the pretty daydream. “Reste,” with GIMS, feels like a mismatch of vocalists and styles. “Rise And Fall” verges on the painful—Craig David’s cloying, overly busy vocals detract from the aching classical guitar hook borrowed from Ten Summoner’s Tales’ superior song, “Shape Of My Heart.”
However, on the whole, Duets portrays Sting as a conduit for passionate performances. On many of the songs, his contribution is understated and uncertain, serving to push the featured artist forward. Yet the fact that each song is of such polished and refined quality speaks to Sting’s subtle knack for engineering holistic, arty pop songs. Though he sacrifices some amount of the spotlight, the songs, the artists and listeners benefit.
(c) RIFF Magazine by Alexander Baechle
Compilation album is a generous reminder of The Police star’s incalculable range...
“Sting and Shaggy Know You’re Confused” read a headline in Forbes when the former Police frontman and reggae mainstay released a collaborative album 44/876, in 2018. From a bird’s-eye view, the pair’s collaboration seemed unlikely, with Sting and The Police being at the forefront of Britain’s 1980s new wave movement and Shaggy being synonymous with a 2000s single about denying infidelity. And yet, anyone intimately familiar with Sting - both as a solo artist and leader of The Police - knows of his decades-long history melding sounds, dabbling in everything from rock to jazz, new-age, the West African raï genre, classical, reggae - the list goes on.
Now, all of Sting‘s decade-spanning collaborations, starting from the early 1990s and up to the present, have been placed together in a wonderful compilation, simply titled Duets, featuring recordings with Mary J. Blige (“Whenever I Say Your Name”), Herbie Hancock (“My Funny Valentine”), Eric Clapton (“It’s Probably Me”), Annie Lennox (“We’ll Be Together”), Charles Aznavour (“L’amour C’est COmme Un Jour”), Mylène Farmer (“Stolen Car”), Shaggy (“Don’t Make Me Wait”), Melody Gardot (“Little Something”), Cheb Mami (“Desert Rose”), and more.
It’s a welcome opportunity to revisit Sting‘s lengthy collaborative resume; if anything, Duets serves as a reminder that not only has the man been doing this for a long time, but when he does team up with a new artist, he strikes just the right balance in letting the featured player shine, and letting the song belong to them as well.
It is generally known that Sting likes to collaborate with artists from all over the map, literally and from a genre perspective. But the point is driven home on Duets and should clear up any so-called “confusion” casual listeners might have the next time he drops a joint effort.
(c) The Independent by Rachel Brodsky
Sting Showcases Dynamic Range Via Collaborations On ‘Duets’...
With his fifteenth solo album, Sting’s Duets is a fluid journey between other collaborators with touches of inspiration from a plethora of genres, all while boasting that finesse and swagger that’s immortalized in his past work.
The collection opens up with a strong three-punch of songs with Melody Gardot, Eric Clapton, and Mylène Farmer. The opener, “Little Something,” with Gardot sets the tone for the project with a quarantine-recorded song that’s fun and beaming with a suave melody. Its bright and uplifting sound is something that is mirrored with the chemistry boasted by the two on the track.
As the project continues on, Sting moves to sample some of his own work on the album’s fifth track with Craig David. It samples his own fingerpicking from 1993’s “Shape Of My Heart”. Repurposing older works and reliving older songs via covers are what make Duets an album that will speak to fans of Sting’s earliest solo work and fans of The Police. Its merit lay in how these songs are able to explore the collaborative efforts between all sorts of artists from different generations and backgrounds. This idea is echoed on “Desert Rose” with Cheb Mami or “Fragile” with Julio Iglesias.
In keeping with the duet nature of the album, songs with other notable figures emerge such as the celebrated “Reste” with GIMS, or “Don’t Me Wait” with Shaggy. The latter having originally appeared on 2018’s joint project with Shaggy, renews the notion that this album is a collection of great collaborations and cannot be treated as a cohesive body of work.
This collection of tracks that crosses genres and languages is the heart of Duets. Whether it’s covers, rejuvenating his older works, or bringing someone from a different language onto the track, Duets is a space where the music is about having fun and sounding good.
(c) Glide magazine by Victor Vargas