STING — ...All This Time (review)

STING — ...All This Time album cover Live album · 2001 · Pop/Art Song/Folk Buy this album from MMA partners
3/5 ·
Boy, talk about disastrous timing. Sting planned and rehearsed for this particular concert months in advance and had everything lined up perfectly. It was going to be a stellar night whereupon another display of his musical legacy would be preserved forevermore. Unfortunately it was also September 11, 2001. The day of the worst man-conceived nightmare that could be imagined. Considering the earth-shaking events that occurred just hours before they were to go on, Sting graciously offered to excuse any musician in the gathered ensemble who wasn’t up to playing that evening but none opted to leave their assigned post. The adage of “the show must go on” never had such gravity and probably never will again but that was most likely the only thing they knew to do in that situation. I commend each of them for being such consummate professionals. They performed their assigned tasks with remarkable efficiency and poise but you can tell there’s a dark cloud hanging over the entire endeavor, casting a shadow on every aspect of it. What could’ve and should’ve been a joyous celebration of Sting’s highly successful career turned out to be a case of let’s just do the best we can and get through this thing without being overcome by the grief connected to the cruel tragedy we just witnessed on television. I feel sorry for all that were involved in this recording. It must’ve been the hardest job they’ve ever had to do.

Taking all of those worrisome and troubling external distractions into account, this is a pretty good live recording of some of his finest material. I presume it’s no accident that they open the set with the poignant and appropriate “Fragile.” The first verse is ethereal as Sting intones “If blood will flow when flesh and steel are one/drying in the color of the evening sun/tomorrow’s rain will wash the stains away/but something in our minds will always stay,” before they slip into a rhythm truer to the original. The brief instrumental segment sports a Latin tint and overall it’s a very jazzy interpretation they present with subdued class. “A Thousand Years” owns less opulence than it did on the album, causing it to not have as much impact, but when guest Chris Botti’s golden trumpet segues them to the jazz-laden “Perfect Love…Gone Wrong” things get interesting for a spell. Jason Rebello’s piano solo is wonderful and Clark Gayton’s muted trombone is a nice surprise. “All This Time” is a let down due to the different feel they adopt that doesn’t work. The song’s main allure is its juxtaposition of a bright, carefree melody with highly sarcastic lyrics and this rendition fails to capitalize on the irony. “The Hounds of Winter” is a faithful recreation of the studio track and at least drummer extraordinaire Manu Katche gets a rare chance to kick some tail towards the end of the number. I’m curious as to why Sting wanted to delve back into his Police catalogue but the semi-jazz atmosphere he constructs around “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” gives it new life and a much less lecherous personality that’s refreshing. The ballad “When We Dance” takes over by moving right into the mellow mood they’ve established. Jaques Morelenbaum’s cello adds a cool tone but, like most of the tunes from the “Mercury Falling” album, the quality of the composition just doesn’t measure up.

The jazziest piece on the disc is next, “Dienda.” As far as I can tell, this is the only place you can find it. It was co-written with his former keyboard man Kenny Kirkland and I can only surmise that it was never on one of Sting’s albums because it leans too far into the pure jazz realm. No matter what the reason, it’s a genuine hidden gem and Rebello’s piano ride in the middle is exquisite. Sting drags out another relic in the form of “Roxanne” but the group’s reduced-stress approach is immeasurably easier to tolerate. The sweet cello in the interlude is intriguing and they pull off a nifty detour into a jazzy shuffle where Clark’s trombone contributes some playful sass. They attach a Ramsey Lewis-like groove to “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” that makes it glow with a jazzy hue. Otherwise, nothing unexpected pops up until the last section when it goes wholly gospel. For “Brand New Day” they cop a classic rock & roll attitude that catches you off guard, especially with their dramatic, R&B revue-styled pauses during the first verse. The entrance of the big band persona later on is entertaining, too. The momentum sags a bit when they slow for “Fields of Gold.” It’s hardly distinguishable from the album version and that’s a shame because if there was a tune he really could’ve put his jazz hat on for it’s this one but he plays it straight. Yet, in the case of “Moon Over Bourbon Street,” it’s a relief that he didn’t tamper with the original much at all. It’s a superb number as it is and Botti’s trumpet licks are sublime. After a laid-back intro, “If I Ever Lose My Faith In You” dives headlong into the song’s rock core and it emerges strong and hale. The biggest disappointment is the closer, “Every Breath You Take.” It sounds like the kind of patronizing, hokey deal you’d expect to be subjected to in a glitzy Las Vegas cocktail lounge. I guess I can’t blame the musicians but it’s as if they’re in a hurry to finish the show and it leaves a sour taste in your mouth.

The most blatant discrepancy on this album is Sting’s normally dependable-as-the-sunrise voice. I sense that he may’ve taken the murderous, cowardly acts of the bloodthirsty terrorists harder than anyone else on that stage. The unfair pressure to go through with the gig regardless must’ve been weighing on his shoulders like a boulder the whole time and his sometimes strained vocals betray his angst and inner heartache repeatedly. I know that in a perfect world he would’ve postponed the entire shebang and rescheduled it for many months down the line but the logistics and financial investment involved in the project prevented that from being an option. It’s just one more consequence of the horrible happenings that took place on 9/11/01 that can’t be rewound and fixed. The noble gesture of Sting respectfully dedicating this album to all those who lost their lives on that sad day may outlive the music that it contains.
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