STING — The Soul Cages

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STING - The Soul Cages cover
4.35 | 9 ratings | 1 review
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Album · 1991

Filed under Pop/Art Song/Folk
By STING

Tracklist

1. Island of Souls (6:41)
2. All This Time (4:54)
3. Mad About You (3:53)
4. Jeremiah Blues, Part 1 (4:54)
5. Why Should I Cry for You? (4:46)
6. Saint Agnes and the Burning Train (2:43)
7. The Wild Wild Sea (6:41)
8. The Soul Cages (5:52)
9. When the Angels Fall (7:48)

Total Time: 48:16

Line-up/Musicians

Bagpipes [Northumbrian Pipes] – Kathryn Tickell
Drums – Manu Katché
Guitar – Dominic Miller
Keyboards – David Sancious, Kenny Kirkland
Oboe – Paola Paparelle
Percussion – Bill Summers, Munyungo Jackson, Ray Cooper, Skip Burney, Tony Vacca, Vinx
Saxophone – Branford Marsalis
Vocals, Bass, Synthesizer [Synclavier], Mandolin – Sting

About this release

A&M Records ‎– 396 405-2 (UK)

Thanks to Chicapah, snobb for the updates

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STING THE SOUL CAGES reviews

Specialists/collaborators reviews

Chicapah
Grief is a Grizzly. It’ll claw at your heart, gnaw into your very essence and leave you nothing but a shell of bones, questioning everything you thought you believed in. God is rarely the cause of the pain and anguish but, following the death of a loved one, He often bears the curses of the bereaved. Yet God never wastes a hurt. He can instill strength for therapeutic and/or creative urges to emerge from the experience and I surmise that that’s what happened when Sting wrote and recorded “The Soul Cages.” After the passing of his father Sting developed writer’s block, contributing to him going over three years without releasing a follow up to his second solo album. It was only when he finally confronted his resentment of and sorrow over his loss that he was able to express through music and words his deepest thoughts about and personal struggle with what may be the toughest thing for a person to face; the death of someone close. The result is Sting’s masterpiece and one of my all-time favorite albums. It moves me.

Okay, so that’s but one of my undocumented theories as to why this disc is so great. Another is that Sting’s lengthy hiatus put enough distance between his long stint with the Police and his initiating a solo career that immediately followed it for him to dig deep enough to excavate a style of music that was exclusively his own. I don’t know what to call it. It’s too ethereal for rock & roll, too grounded for prog and too profound for pop so I’ll say it’s British jazz because that’s where his roots lie. And being true to himself is what this album is about. Through its songs it he erected a lasting, pristine memorial to his dad’s memory without compromising his integrity or his art. It is at no time maudlin nor does he seek pity. It’s not sacrilegious because in railing at the Almighty he acknowledges His existence. Sting dares to ask the hardest of questions, knowing full well it’s impossible for even the wisest or most spiritual to answer them. By developing a fictional story line about a man named Billy whose father, a riveter, is killed in a shipyard accident Sting mines the literary ploy of transference to unlock his innermost feelings and to free his conscience from having to explain his personal motivations. His music is always top notch but he’s never written better lyrics than these.

“Island of Souls” begins with beautiful Northumbrian Pipes floating their mystical tones outward in all directions like a fog bank. The fading notes then give way to a haunting waltz rhythm that pads underneath Sting’s hypnotic melody upon which he describes Billy’s futureless, drab existence and how he dreams of boarding a boat that’d take him and his dad to “a place where they would never be found/to a place far away from this town.” As on the preceding album, Sting’s greatest musical asset is drummer extraordinaire Manu Katche. Note the second verse where Manu places the snare beat on the one, giving the tune a disorienting tack as if to emphasize Sting’s new direction; sailing against the current. This enveloping track features a combination of lush keyboards played by Kenny Kirkland and David Sancious, Dominic Miller’s acoustic guitar and intriguing incidental percussion. The words tell of Billy’s dying father being brought home with “a brass watch, a check, maybe three weeks to live” and the song closes in a reprise of the phantom pipes. “All This Time” literally rolls in and it may be the most unlikely #5 hit single ever. Its bright-as-a-rainbow perkiness hides its cynical subject matter so well that most folks have no clue as to what it’s about. And no wonder. The incredible mix of instrumentation makes the tune irresistible. But beneath its happy veneer lie the most honest expressions of grief’s anger I’ve ever heard. There’s no consolation for Billy, especially from the church. “Two priests came round our house tonight/one young, one old/to offer prayers for the dying/to serve the final rite/one to learn, one to teach which way the wind blows/fussing and flapping in priestly black/like a murder of crows,” he sings.

The scintillating “Mad About You” starts with a bold 12-string acoustic and a sprightly mandolin ringing out purposefully and when Katche kicks in like an intruder he grabs you by the lapels and doesn’t let go. This is jazz retrieved from a forgotten, more introspective epoch long passed containing a level of Ecclesiastical angst unmatched since King Solomon’s rants of “all is vanity.” “And I have never in my life/felt more alone than I do now/although I claim dominions over all I see/it means nothing to me/there are no victories/in all our histories/without love,” Sting cries as Brandon Marsalis’ soprano sax glides overhead like a winged predator. “Jeremiah Blues (Part I)” slithers in with a jazzy, tense groove that cultivates fidgety anticipation. The chorus with its close harmonies offers no relief and Kirkland’s piano interval adds an air of sarcasm to support Billy’s caustic outlook. “Every place around the world/it seemed the same/can’t hear the rhythm for the drums/everybody wants to look the other way/when something wicked this way comes,” he snarls. It’s not until the arrival of the bridge with its rockin’ riff that the stress eases and you can breathe again. Dominic’s guitar solo cuts like a sword and the whole band raves with abandon to the fade. One of Sting’s most engaging of melodies and passionate vocal performances follows, the enthralling “Why Should I Cry For You?” A deep drone hums in stark contrast to a cheerful Whippoorwill-like chirp and Manu’s dramatic drum entrance is one for the ages. Devastates me every time. Through Billy’s anguished self-inquiries Sting reveals his emotional conflicts. “Why must I think of you?/Why must I?/Why should I?/Why should I cry for you?/Why would you want me to?” he pleads. Kenny’s Hammond organ in the last movement lends the track an uplifting atmosphere.

The perfectly-placed instrumental “Saint Agnes and the Burning Train” is a lovely classical guitar piece performed on Spanish acoustics. It’s relatively short but I can’t imagine the album without it. A dreamy mist flows in to inaugurate the free-form jazz structure of “The Wild Wild Sea,” wherein a tale of Billy’s dad’s ghost leading him from stormy waters to safety is told. Katche in particular shows remarkable restraint in this, the most eclectic cut on the record and it’s yet another indicator that Sting has broken ties with his pop-minded past. “The Soul Cages” pulls no punches. Miller’s scathing guitar lines are inspired, Manu’s drums sound like controlled explosions and the track’s dogged determination to rock hard never flags as it slowly builds in intensity behind Sting’s threatening voice. “And what’s in it for me, my pretty young thing?/why should I whistle when the caged bird sings?/If you lose a wager with the king of the sea/you’ll spend the rest of forever in the cage with me” he snarls menacingly. The coda’s lyrical recall of Billy’s dream in “Island of Souls” sends chills down my back. This song works best played LOUDLY. “When The Angels Fall” has a solemn aura punctuated by bluesy guitar riffs at the onset but soon the depth of the track’s yawning openness saturates your senses. The immaculate tempo of Katche’s drumming and his unique approach is indescribable as he sets the delicate pace behind Sting’s musings of “…perhaps the dream/is dreaming us” and “…all the ragged souls/of all the ragged men/looking for their lost homes/shuffle to the ruins/from the leveled plain/to search among the tombstones.” At the halfway mark the mood shifts from resignation to defiance as he shakes his fist at the heavens and intones “…this is my demand/bring down the angels/cast them from my sight/I never want to see/a million suns at midnight.” The aftermath of that outburst is enthralling in its all-encompassing glow and the tune’s final section brings to mind a spirit fighting to the last heartbeat until Sting whispers serenely “goodnight.”

This album was significant for me in yet another way. When in early ’91 I went to the record store to buy the LP I was informed that it was only available on CD. I’d put off investing in that format for many years due to my large vinyl collection and tiny income but after hearing “Why Should I Cry For You?” on the radio I knew I had to have this record. If finally biting the inevitable bullet and financing a CD player was the only way, then so be it. “The Soul Cages” was my first digital disc and I can say in all honesty that no other has surpassed it in fidelity or impact since. With this effort Sting fully embraced his jazz upbringing, folding it into his signature mien in such a way that all he’d done before pales in comparison. He’s done excellent work since then but never anything greater. This is an enduring work of art worthy of admiration.

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