STING — Sacred Love

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3.07 | 3 ratings | 1 review
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Album · 2003

Filed under Pop/Art Song/Folk


1. Inside (4:47)
2. Send Your Love (feat. Vicente Amigo) (4:38)
3. Whenever I Say Your Name (5:27)
4. Dead Man's Rope (5:43)
5. Never Coming Home (4:59)
6. Stolen Car (Take Me Dancing) (3:58)
7. Forget About the Future (5:12)
8. This War (5:30)
9. The Book of My Life (feat. Anoushka Shankar) (6:16)
10. Sacred Love (6:03)
11. Send Your Love (Dave Audé remix) (3:15)

Total Time: 55:53


Backing Vocals – Ada Dyer, Bahija Rhapl, Donna Gardier, Joy Rose, Katreese Barnes, Lance Ellington
Bass [Double] – Christian McBride
Castanets – Valerie Denys
Cello – Jacqueline Thomas
Doudouk – Levon Minassian
Drums – Manu Katche, Vincent Colaiuta
Guitar – Dominic Miller
Keyboards – Kipper
Keyboards [Hammond] – Jeff Young
Piano – Dave Hartley
Piano [Rhodes] – Jason Rebello
Guitar, Bass, Keyboards, Clarinet – Sting
Tabla – Aref Durvesh
Trombone – Clark Gayton
Trumpet – Chris Botti

About this release

A&M Records ‎– B0001141-02 (US)

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At the tail end of September 2003 Sting, after four years had passed without a follow up to his impressive “Brand New Day” album, put out “Sacred Love.” His first studio project of the current millennium was expected to be out of this world considering how long he’d had to assemble it but the cold truth is that it fell short of even matching the one that preceded it. Actually, it’s not even close. While it doesn’t sink to the depths that “Mercury Falling” did it is hampered by a dearth of new ideas and contains mediocre moments too numerous to overlook. One important aspect remains consistent as it always has in Sting’s catalogue of music, though, and that’s the high fidelity this recording possesses in spades. It sounds great. But, unfortunately, if a song is average no amount of slick studio and mixdown techniques can make it extraordinary and that’s the fundamental problem with “Sacred Love.” The tunes are just not up to snuff when compared to what this artist has written in the past.

You certainly can’t lay the blame on the musicians involved since the basic band line-up is the same as on “Brand New Day.” Manu Katche and Vinnie Colaiuta supply their exquisite expertise on drums, Dominic Miller works his special magic on guitar and co-producer Kipper performs his keyboard and programming duties flawlessly so none of these guys were the fly in the ointment. Jason Rebello on piano and Rhodes was the only stranger in the house but it’s not fair to point the finger at him just because of his newbie status. No, the buck stops at Sting’s desk. It may’ve been a case of him not being able to zero in on an inspiring direction and, instead, relying on experience and instinct to guide him. Who knows? Don’t get me wrong, “Sacred Love” isn’t without merit and a handful of its songs are quite good but over the decades I’ve come to expect wondrous things from Sting and, justified or not, that’s what he gets for setting his own bar so high.

The disc starts with a mysterious intro (a device he ends up overusing) that leads to a surprisingly spare, four-piece combo ambience for the early going of “Inside.” It’s not horrible but it appears that Sting is forcing trendy hip-hop phrasing into his delivery of the lyrics and that approach makes them too busy and distracting to be memorable. I like a little alliteration as much as the next dude but he goes overboard with lines like “Radiate me/subjugate me/incubate me/recreate me/demarcate me/educate me/punctuate me…” Etcetera, etcetera and so forth. You get the gist. After a while those hurried words cease to mean anything. “Send Your Love” is next. It begins with a nice yet irrelevant Spanish guitar flourish before an energetic world beat takes over. As he did often on his previous album, Sting injects an entertaining Arabian/Indian atmosphere into the proceedings but what he fails to provide is a melody line that’ll stay in your noggin, something he usually excels at. His words are uncharacteristically vague, as well. “Inside your head is a relay station/a mission probe into the unknowing/we send a seed to a distant future/then we can watch the galaxies growing,” he sings. Do what? “Whenever I Say Your Name” is a step up. After another spacey beginning the underlying track adopts a “modern urban” R&B feel. That’s not something I’m crazy about but it suits this tune well and the involved, near-classical chord progressions in both the verses and the choruses are engaging. At the end it sports a funky breakdown segment where Sting emotes and guest Mary J. Blige wails. The spiritual lyrics about turning to God in seasons of strife are uplifting. “Whenever the sun refuse to shine/whenever the skies are pouring rain/whatever I lost I thought was mine/whenever I close my eyes in pain/whenever I kneel to pray/whenever I need to find a way/I’m calling out your name,” they cry together.

That one’s okay but it’s not the best cut on the album. “Dead Man’s Rope” is. It has a folk/rock atmosphere that’s aided by a gliding rhythm track that strolls briskly underneath and Sting wisely avoids unnecessarily complicating this well-written song. The ethereal bridge puts contrast into the arrangement and the words carry a strong emotional pull as he relates the last thoughts a condemned man ponders before facing the noose. What could’ve been a sad story isn’t because he’s found peace through surrendering his heart to the Lord. “All this wandering has led me to this place/inside the well of my memory/sweet rain of forgiveness/now I’m walking in his grace/I’m walking in his footsteps,” he smiles. It’s terrific. Sting still has the gift of being able to touch my soul. “Never Coming Home” follows and it’s another world beat number packing plenty of momentum. The lyrics describe a couple where the male doesn’t take his lover’s threats seriously but one day she finally leaves him forever. Its weakness lies in its lacking a musical focal point for the first half until the ascending movement kicks in and Rebello’s hot jazz piano solo launches the tune into the stratosphere. Deep oceans of dense synthesizers give “Stolen Car (Take Me Dancing)” a warmth that glows behind crisp drums and Sting’s sensuous voice. A complex tapestry of intertwined background vocals embellish the catchy chorus but the real star is the story he weaves about a clairvoyant thief who, by picking up on hints inside the fancy automobile he’s swiped, intuitively senses that the rich owner of the vehicle is deceiving both his wife and his mistress by falsely promising to give them the romantic life they foolishly dream of sharing with him.

The slow funk beat of “Forget About the Future” grants it a slinky vibe that’s hard to resist. Dominic’s guitar is tastefully understated, Sting’s jazzy vocal delivery gives it magnetism and the clever addition of sly horns in the final segment makes it cool as a Popsicle. The words are delightfully humorous. “They said we’d better check the weather chart/before we tie our colors to this mast/it’s just too hard thinking about the future, baby/so let’s get on with the past,” he smirks. Sting gets his rock on (his heaviest since “Soul Cages”) for “This War” but his too-controlled vocal doesn’t fit the track’s intensity although mucho kudos go out to Miller for his ferocious guitar work. Stirring words like “There’s a war on our democracy/a war on our dissent/there’s a war inside religion/and what Jesus might have meant” must be sung with unrestrained passion and I’m disappointed that Sting didn’t bring it. Heavy Indian flavorings color “The Book of My Life” due in no small part to Anoushka Shankar’s sitar but the tune is pedestrian because nothing distinguishes it from Sting’s frequent forays into exotic musical locales. You keep expecting something sensational to occur but it never does and the words just ramble. “Sacred Love” comes on strong with its perky rhythm track and this time the song’s potential is met as it builds layer by layer and the exciting gospel chorale steps in at the perfect juncture. Sting’s lyrics about discovering the ultimate spiritual ecstasy standing right in front of his nose in the person of his own wife are playfully sexy and he sings with the feverish fervor of a revival evangelist. He should have stopped while the gettin’ was good but he felt compelled to screw the pooch by attaching something called a Dave Aude remix of “Send Your Love.” It’s a crappy techno-dance version of a tune that didn’t have much substance to begin with, causing me to wonder what the hell Sting was smoking that day. Barf.

Of all things bothersome about this extremely uneven record the lack of a palpable jazz presence is the major let down. Oh, it makes a few brief appearances here and there but it gets overwhelmed by Sting’s fascination with in-vogue 21st century hip-hop inflections that noticeably dominate this disc. It’s not a total wash out because several of the cuts are top notch but I know what he’s capable of and this isn’t his best work by a mile. The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and “Sacred Love” was tossed into my “been there, done that” stack of CDs sooner than I anticipated. You can only punch the skip button so many times before an album becomes more hassle than you’re willing to put up with to hear three or four exceptional songs and the disc gets set aside. That’s the fate this record suffered.

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