Alright, you know what? It is what it is, so I might as well come clean and admit it. Time to fess up. Here goes…I have an enormous man-crush on Sting (and by that I mean the former Gordon Sumner, not the WCW wrestler from the late 80’s). There, I said it—easier than I thought. I’m not embarrassed, not ashamed in the least bit.
Hey, why would I be? If there’s any bloke out there that deserves to be Zeus in the Pantheon of Rock-gods, it’s Sting. To me, he’s the consummate pro, a man possessed with an almost limitless musical vocabulary and intelligence that allows him to flow comfortably from style to style. Rock, jazz, samba, world, pop…name it, he’s done it, and done it damn well. Aside from the fact that I consider him a mentor of sorts - we’re both bass players that sing, have an almost lifelong obsession with health and physical fitness, and have a love of film and acting – he’s one of the few artists who defies convention by making daring leaps in his storied career and still managing to stay on top.
I know I’m rattling on like a school girl; I might as well write his initials on my biology notebook and hang his picture in my locker (actually I did, way back when). But I can’t help it—the guy’s an icon among icons, a musician’s musician. So imagine my delight when I read the press release for Sting’s Songs From The Labyrinth, only to find out that it’s released on Deutsche Grammaphon, the popular classical label. What other pop superstar would entertain that kind of notion (and don’t mention Christina Aguilera’s so-called “jazz” album, I mean, c’mon) and pull it off so effortlessly? No one, that’s who. And this isn’t just a cover of classical standards—it’s Sting and famed lutenist Edin Karamazan going head to head, lute to archlute, with an interesting back-story for the album that makes it a working piece of history.
So what’s the deal here? Well it seems way, way back in late 16th century England, the madly popular lutenist John Dowland, who many music historians consider the first rock star (despite the fact that rock didn’t come along until 400 years later) had grown tired of touring the English countryside and wanted to settle down. So he wrote a letter to King James I’s Secretary of State requesting to become the official court lutenist. As it so happens, years later the king granted him permission, and Dowland entertained the royal court until his death in 1626.
Sting, after receiving a lute as a gift, took to Dowland’s music and found his life fascinating after reading a copy of the letter. So he concocted the idea of what Dowland’s life must’ve been like and set it to Dowland’s own music (talk about classic cover songs, sheesh). Interspersed between musical tracks is Sting reading excerpts from the letter, complete in the Old English vernacular. But does it really work? Yes and no, so in order to really appreciate it, you better know what you’re getting into.
On one hand, Yes, because the brief, haunting melodies of the tracks (all 23 of ‘em, if you count the vocal bits) have a New Age, trance-like quality that bleed into each other seamlessly. The spoken parts enhance the “storyline”, although if you didn’t know the back-story, you might get aggravated trying to put it together.
On the other hand, No, because this music requires you to be in the mood for it, which gives it a so-so replay value, depending on the type of person you are. If you’re expecting to hear something similar to Sting’s jazzier albums, you’re in for a disappointment; the only thing that reminds you it’s him is the sound of his voice. But if you’re a die-hard fan like me, a classical music aficionado, or a true music fan feeling a little daring and wanting to try something a little out of the ordinary, pick up a copy as soon as the mood hits you. For me, it’s another success and yet another reason Sting holds court in the Master Class. Now if you’ll excuse me, I gotta go light a candle in the Temple of Sumner. Amen.