Sting, The Bridge, review: pure, timeless pop class... 4/5
The former Police man's 14th solo album shows where Ed Sheeran and Adele might be in a few decades' time – if they're lucky.
It is a brave or foolish pop star who puts out their new album the same week as the return of Adele. The British chanteuse is set to sweep all before her, as her much-heralded new release arrives today to challenge Coldplay, Ed Sheeran and Abba for the all-important Christmas sales top spot. So spare a thought for former Police-man Sting, in danger of becoming the forgotten superstar as he unveils a 14th solo album of impeccable songcraft, sublime musicianship and soulfully sensual vocals to precious little fanfare.
The Bridge is business as usual for the well-preserved 70-year-old singer-songwriter, even if his old bass-playing fingers are no longer on the mainstream pop pulse. There are no hi-tech sonic twists, guest rappers or desperate attempts to co-opt contemporary trends. Recorded in a home studio during lockdown with long-distance contributions from backing musicians, it is still all about virtuoso playing of elegantly constructed songs whose literate lyrics reach for emotion and profundity. The sound is plush and luxurious, with Sting’s softly sandpapered vocals to the fore. It’s a fair bet that half of these tracks would have been inescapable had they been released in his commercial prime.
The opener, Rushing Water, is driven by a sharp Police-like guitar lick and snapping drum beat as Sting tangles with the creative power of the subconscious. If It’s Love is a slick ditty playing with the familiar songsmith trope of being diagnosed with a lethal dose of amour fou. For Her Love is sensual and moody, with Sting floating above atmospheric synthesizers and a hypnotic guitar motif. Loving You may be the album’s highlight, with a sinister bluesy pulse as Sting evokes a betrayed lover’s jealous testimonial to wounded devotion. “We made vows inside the church / To forgive each other’s sins / But there are things I have to endure / like the smell of another man’s skin / If that’s not loving you, I don’t know what is...”
As ever with Sting, there is a tendency to over-wordiness and clever-cleverness, with the complex time-signature of Harmony Road making his thoughtful sketch of economic injustice easier to appreciate than to love, although I can forgive a lot for the scintillating Branford Marsalis saxophone solo. About half of the album explores Sting’s fascination with narrative folk styles, crafting ambiguous stories of strange encounters with angels and devils to tones of acoustic guitars, fiddles and melodeons. The best of these, The Bells of St Thomas, is an extraordinary piece, a subtle meditation on betrayal based around a Dutch renaissance painting by Peter Paul Reubens. You won’t find anything like that on an Ed Sheeran album.
Sting last scored a number one album in 1991, with the Soul Cages. That he is still operating at the same creative pitch 30 years on should stand as a beacon to younger, headline-grabbing artists. This is where Adele and Sheeran might be in a few decades time, if they’re very lucky and remain committed to their art and craft. The Bridge is out of time yet timeless, pure pop class.
(c) The Daily Telegraph by Neil McCormick
Sting, Vivid Author of Spiritual Pop, Brings Vivid Characters to Life in Beautiful New Album, “The Bridge”.
We first met Sting, all of us, circa late 1978 with “Roxanne,” the story of a call girl the narrator was trying to rescue from her vocation. Roxanne, who could walk the street for money, she didn’t care if it was wrong or right. “Roxanne” was the first captivating fictional character in a long line of them now extending over 40 years in songs by Gordon Matthew Sumner.
Along the way, Sting wrote a poignant memoir, “Broken Music,” and a Broadway musical about his life growing up in Newcastle called “The Last Ship.”
What sustains all those songs though is that they are not just love songs, or musings on fame. Unlike the songwriters of today, Sting constructed plots and stories, characters with names and emotions and aspirations. It’s why we go back to them over and over. From Roxanne to the King of Pain to the romantics in those fields of gold, Sting paints an aural picture in every song and draws us in.
So, too, in his beautiful new layered album, “The Bridge.” He’s smart: the first three or four tracks are the singles, all very catchy, especially “If It’s Love,” which is deceptive the way “Every Breath You Take” was, but hidden depths. Listen to it a couple of times. It’s top 40 with a bite.
I’ve already expressed my love for “Rushing Water,” which kicks off the album. Also a “hit” in the old sense that has a haunting undercurrent:
This is the sound of atmospheres
Three metric tonnes of pressure
This is the sum of all my fears
Something I just can’t measure
“Rushing Water” ties directly to the title track, “The Bridge,” the sneaky elegy for the songs that come in between. There are plenty of Roxanne like characters, from “Captain Bateman” (which has disarming harmonics) and the people who long to leave the violence on “Harmony Road.” “The Bridge” album is a collection of short stories.
There’s actually a whole movie in “The Bells of St. Thomas” with the main character waking up in Antwerp in the bed of a rich woman who thinks he’s dead. (This song deserves a Grammy and an Oscar.)
Don’t know how I got here
Or if I was led
But I know it’s a Sunday
For the bells in my head
And when you get to the actual “Bridge,” it’s a spiritual crossing:
We are but bags of blood and bone, yet we carry the weight of our sons and our daughters.
And now the fields are all but drowned, and we climb up to the ridge,
Some will seek the higher ground,
Some of us the bridge.
A friend of mine in music publishing who has nothing to do with Sting said to me today, “He’s done something very unusual with this album, very different and important.” We take our rock superstars for granted a lot because we’ve already had the hits, the legacy.
But my friend is right. “The Bridge” is a moment, and after 15 solo albums (plus all of the Police) it’s a remarkable achievement. It hearkens back to “The Soul Cages.” And still is very accessible. The compositions are so rich and textured, put on real headphones if you can and listen to Branford Marsalis and Dominic Miller and all the other players. “The Bridge” is a treat.
(c) Showbiz411 by Roger Friedman
Sting - THE BRIDGE (Universal) ★★★½
Sting’s boyish voice was, like the catchy tunes, reggae beats, restrained guitar and effusive drumming, a hallmark of The Police, and that youthfulness has never quite deserted him. Now 70 – an age when most voices deepen, darken, grow huskier, become wobblier or all four – Sting still sounds like he’s just embarking on a career. How does he do that?
The Bridge has him bundling up his established interests in pop, R&B, folk and a dash of jazz – which could also be described as treading musical water. Lyrically, meanwhile, the lockdown has seen him create contemplative characters often weighing up choices, with the bridge of the title being the ineradicable link between us all. Primarily playing bass, Sting is surrounded by a classy band including guitarist Dominic Miller, keyboards player Martin Kierszenbaum and drummers Manu Katche and Josh Freese.
After the surging pop-rock of Rushing Water, the breezy If It’s Love likens falling in love to falling sick, while The Book of Numbers is more haunting and wouldn’t have been out of place on The Dream of the Blue Turtles. Even better is Loving You, with Maya Jane Coles (who shares the composing credit) creating the soundscape for a song about jealousy and infidelity. Harmony Road, penned from the perspective of someone keen to escape the wrong side of the tracks, is leavened with a glorious little soprano sax solo from Branford Marsalis.
For Her Love exemplifies Sting’s prettiest songwriting, and then there are three folksy ballads: The Hills on the Border, Captain Bateman (about a jailer’s daughter visiting a captive naval officer) and Waters of Tyne. The Bells of St Thomas has his double bass teamed with Katche’s brushes and the merest sighs from Miller’s guitars, all lilting on a beautifully crafted morning-after song, the lyrics touching upon a Rubens painting and the fruits of sin. The understated gem of a title track has him delving into his voice’s lower reaches, and Captain Bateman’s Basement is huge fun: a jazzier Captain Bateman, with Sting singing wordlessly in tandem with his bass and the brilliant Katche stretching out a little. Finally, and surprisingly, comes a charming cover of Sitting on the Dock of the Bay. If excessive earnestness has sometimes compromised Sting, it’s shrugged aside here by an artist who still sounds in his prime.
(c) The Age by John Shand
A celebration of his prolific artistry... 7/10
Water, water everywhere - written during lockdown amidst the global pandemic, Sting ruminates on a myriad of concepts and themes centred around water which includes the impact of lockdown, love, loss, separation, disruption and political turmoil through his classic evergreen storytelling style.
Sting’s ‘bridge’ represents an enduring and ever-evolving link between ideas, cultures, continents, and it also represents a passage into his past offering an opportunity for him to revisit the music and places that has shaped his illustrious career so far.
He explains that “These songs are between one place and another, between one state of mind and another, between life and death, between relationships. Between pandemics, and between eras – politically, socially and psychologically, all of us are stuck in the middle of something. We need a bridge.”
Drawing inspiration from a multitude of genres including folk, classical, jazz and rock ‘n’ roll, this eclectic album opens up with the soaring, guitar-driven ‘Rushing Water’ which immediately showcases Sting’s trademark melodic invention and vivid imagery.
‘Rushing Water 'really sets the tone and the concept of the album with the lyrics explaining how the river that rages so wildly represents Sting’s fears and anxieties.
For pure unadulterated joy, enter ‘If It’s Love’, an unabashed pop song chock full of infectious handclap coupled with strings that elevate and a brass accompaniment that uplifts. Here Sting compares love to an illness but it remains an incredibly positive and uplifting love song. He says “I’m certainly not the first songwriter to equate falling in or out of love with an incurable sickness, nor will I be the last.”
Love is a common theme with ‘For Her Love’, a lovelorn ballad sounding reminiscent of 1993’s ‘Fields of Gold’ with ‘Loving You’ representing the other end of the love spectrum - a brooding, slightly dark track that tells the story of a jealous partner. ‘Loving You’ is a breezy yet smouldering electronic ballad that shines.
Revisiting the theme of jealousy and infidelity, the Celtic-infused ‘The Hills on the Border’ is laden with strings and synths talks of forgiveness and confrontation.
‘The Bridge’ is so much more than a clever concept album, there are links between each of the songs and the prolific musician takes to the theme like a duck to water (sorry!) and whilst water is the common denominator, it is really about connection - connection between people, life and death and more.
(c) ClashMusic.com by Emma Harrison
The past decade has pretty much found Sting in a nostalgic and reflective mood, releasing albums about his childhood home (2013's stage musical The Last Ship), reworked versions of tracks from both the Police and solo catalogs (2019's My Songs) and, um, an entire collaboration record with Shaggy (2018's 44/876).
Extend that period to the past 15 years and you'll also discover LPs of lute music and winter-themed tunes, and records featuring more reinterpretations from his past. Only one album from this period, and only the second of this century, 2016's 57th & 9th, came without a high-concept descriptor and could be called a straightforward rock offering.
You can add his 15th LP, The Bridge, to the list of refreshingly genre-defying works that don't require knowledge of 17th-century Renaissance music or appreciation of mid-'90s and early-'00s dancehall-pop stars. Sting is still in a ruminative mood – personal loss, the pandemic and politics all figure into The Bridge's songs – but he gets there via routes that are familiar to followers of the Police and his early solo work.
The bridge here refers to links to Sting's past - the music and memories that shaped him along the way, as well as his connections to various types of songs from across the globe. Opener "Rushing Water" recalls the multifaceted music he made on Synchronicity and The Dream of the Blue Turtles; "If It's Love" takes a more pop-oriented approach to similar territory.
This travelogue spreads across The Bridge's 10 songs, spanning continents and genres, from folk and classical to jazz and world. Sting even brushes against the Police's classic stalker anthem "Every Breath You Take" in "Loving You," a deceiving valentine to an ex: "We made vows inside the church to forgive each other's sins, but there are things I have to endure, like the smell of another man's skin/If that's not loving you, I don't know what is."
Conceived and recorded during lockdown, The Bridge doesn't so much present a sense of urgency in the times as it does a feeling of not overthinking matters. Even when he gets tangled up in lyrics (see "Captain Bateman"), the melodies easily flow, especially during the LP's first half. All of it adds up to Sting's least fussy and most satisfying album in years.
(c) Ultimate Classic Rock by Michael Gallucci
In The Bridge, Sting alludes to troubled waters through brilliant acoustic experiment...
Sting's new release The Bridge has a strong pop-rock vibe that defined his #ThePolice and early solo years, but some of its best songs have Celtic and jazz influences
Sting’s music has been a constant presence for a good part of my life. Be it his songwriting or his vocals, his clever instrumentation or just the themes that draw him, many of his works have featured prominently in the soundtrack of my own life. It’s not to say that every little thing he does is magic, because, you know, he has also written some gold standard tripe. Nevertheless, the fact that he’s been an English teacher and his lyrics are often beautifully layered for an English Literature student like me, has meant that analysing his work is second nature to me.
Obviously then, his new album The Bridge was something I eagerly looked forward to. His 15th so far and the first in over five years that is in the rock realm, it was slated for release on the same day Adele aka Goddess of Heartbreak’s album 30 was released. It was also the day Sir Rod Stewart released an album, but we shall not digress. In the last decade alone, Sting has drawn inspiration from his childhood in The Last Ship (2013), reimagined his solo classics in My Songs (2019), collaborated with Shaggy in 44/876 (2019). His 2016 album 57th& 9th was his last unadulterated rock album that wasn’t carrying the weight of an overarching theme.
Barring the usual interviews in the media, social media discussions and TikTok collabs, Sting has let his music do much of the talking. Given that he isn’t hitting out at exes and writing about things as salacious, this pop-rock seducer-songwriter septuagenarian’s pandemic album is the still water that runs deep.
Water, in fact, is a recurring metaphor in the album that is titled The Bridge, a proverbial link over tough times, over relationships, a connector between disparate ideas and a solution Sting seeks to all that ails the world today. Cleverly and frequently cheesily, water appears and reappears either literally or otherwise to help us tide through the simple and mega complicated themes that make Sting anxious.
A quick listen of any album is unfair to the effort put in and The Bridge doesn’t make a good case for itself either initially. Conversational Sting with sparse melodic timelessness that usually mark his collaborations with Dominic Miller has meant that the album can easily be dismissed as an easy-but-predictable listen.
But Sting has a way of wooing you slowly and he shows no urgency in convincing you to stay. So being quick to judge the album as a collection of B-sides from his blockbuster collections will deprive you of a carefully thought-out string of songs that ebbs and flows at a pace of its own volition. It has a strong pop-rock vibe that defined his The Police and early solo years, but some of its best songs have Celtic and jazz influences. Typically Sting one would imagine.
Opening with 'Rushing Water', Sting lays bare his apprehensions through the swelling of a river. 'If It’s Love' is easy on the ears, almost casual in the way it treats itself. The 'Book of Numbers' starts decisively and resonates with Dominic Miller’s sway on the proceedings. He even returns with haunting, almost stalker-feels writing like in 'Loving You', a song so conversational that the backing instruments are a faint part of the experience. But this very starkness works to his advantage when he so painfully sings, “We made vows inside the church to forgive each other’s sins, but there are things I have to endure, like the smell of another man’s skin. If that’s not loving you, I don’t know what is.” Sigh… these millennial writers have so much to learn from this British legend’s understated song-writing. That itself is refreshing from the House of Sting given that he has had a tendency to complicate sounds and cultures in the noughties.
Three songs in, Sting has unshackled further with the contrition of the water metaphor waning, going instead into deeper themes within our consciousness. 'For Her Love' is so reminiscent of Sting’s 'Fragile' and 'Shape of My Heart', with unmistakable hints of 'Fields of Gold'. It’s the Sting we collectively fell in love with, the affirmation of a life-long love affair with his works. The violins and accordions contribute to the moody song with Celtic hues, 'The Hills on the Border'. Dominic Miller’s subtlety shines in 'The Bells of St. Thomas' where Sting’s song-writing is at its most vivid glory, harking back to some of his lyrical classics like 'Shape of My Heart'. The title track and Captain Bateman benefit tremendously from their folk settings while 'Waters of Tyne’s' acoustic experience is sheer brilliance.
Whenever Sting does an instrumental track it’s just as rich as his lyrical ones where intense chords and tones create a dramatic sonic world that we irresistibly put on loop. Think 'St. Agnes' and the 'Burning Train' from one of Sting’s best albums, Soul Cages. If the album that’s set in the ship-building milieu of his childhood home was one of his most ground-breaking works, then this water-filled outing’s most prolific piece comes in the form of 'Captain Bateman’s Basement', a song that is absolutely nothing like its almost-namesake. The jazz-dipped sensual track feels like we’re in the head of a musician who is tinkering around during soundcheck. Unbridled and uninhibited, it is Sting at his most primal, bass in hand, indistinguishable humming and a bloody good song.
The more you listen to The Bridge, the more the album grows on you, and the more you realise that as much there is water splashed all over the discography, the album is really about reaching out to people, to circumstances, to the divine. In an album full of troubled waters, we’re actually joining Sting on a quest to build bridges.
(c) Firstpost by Lakshmi Govindrajan Javeri