STING — Mercury Falling (review)

STING — Mercury Falling album cover Album · 1996 · Pop/Art Song/Folk Buy this album from MMA partners
2.5/5 ·
One of the most predictable things that can transpire in the life of a successful musician/songwriter is that after a while they’ll grow somewhat bored with the sound that made them famous and develop a certain “been there, done that” attitude towards their art. That’s not always a negative because sometimes their newfound quest to take on the challenge of discovering alternative corridors in their mansion of talent results in them surprising their fans in a positive, horizon-expanding manner (Bob Dylan comes to mind). Much more often than not they find out the hard way that just because they harbor an affection or admiration for another type of music doesn’t mean they can play/sing it well. Monet was unquestionably a master of impressionism but that doesn’t guarantee he would’ve been much of a cubist. I think what Sting tried to do was force his square peg into some round holes on “Mercury Falling” and, while it wasn’t a dismal, career-ending failure, it just didn’t work. Don’t get me wrong, there are some wicked songs on this album and the craftsmanship is up to his usual high standards throughout but compared to his masterpiece, 1991’s poignant “Soul Cages,” and the superb “Ten Summoner’s Tales” that followed it in ‘93 this was a major disappointment to his fans that are partial to his jazzier side. And that includes me.

Things start off headed in the right direction, however, with the moody and jazz-tinted “The Hounds of Winter.” Its descending chord progression and deep field of sound is typical of his early 90s motif but the overall composition isn’t as memorable as most of his album openers. It’s not bad by any means and the tune’s lonesome guy lyrics fit the blustery mood well as he sings “I’m as dark as December/I’m as cold as the Man in the Moon.” The next song shines a light on the profile of Sting I like best, the intriguing “I Hung My Head.” What would normally be a mundane, folky campfire tune is made captivating by the jazzy, mind-twisting 9/8 time signature he employs. The tragic story line reminds me of the plot of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, “Deadeye Dick,” in which a man’s momentary carelessness results in the death of a total stranger and his having to face the inevitable consequences of that mistake. “I orphaned his children/I widowed his wife/I beg their forgiveness/I wish I was dead/I hung my head, I hung my head…” he cries. Returning keyboard man Kenny Kirkland (he was absent from the lineup on the previous CD) adds an appropriately pensive atmosphere to the track with his soft Hammond organ. The only single to chart from this record was his venture into contemporary R&B gospel, “Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot.” Most definitely it marked an unexpected move on his part and the song’s okay (albeit nothing exciting jumps out to distinguish the tune) but the problem lies in the fact that Sting’s voice doesn’t lend itself to a number so Ray Charles-ish. This is the first of several cuts on this disc where our star detours into musical realms he’s not suited for, good intentions aside. Not to cast disrespect on the song’s title and recurring message, he should’ve let his label’s A&R department be his guide for this project.

Having said that, “I Was Brought to My Senses” follows and it’s classic, fantastic Sting. He creates another folk-like aura at the beginning but it soon settles into an easy-flowing 7/8 feel where crisp acoustic guitars and a coy fiddle create an engaging tapestry of sound. His heartfelt, romantic words are presented inside a catchy melody line and it’s wonderful to hear Sting’s former cohort Brandon Marsalis’ sprightly soprano sax show up with a too-brief cameo appearance in the last segment. “You Still Touch Me” is next and it’s at this juncture that the album derails. Sting chooses to experiment with the Memphis/Muscle Shoals soul vibe that he probably idolized as a kid but his wholly Caucasian vocal chops don’t meld with the genre at all and it just ain’t right. On top of all that it occurs to me that he’s keeping his electrifying drummer Vinnie Colaiuta on too short a leash this time and he should’ve known better. “I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying” is a gallant stab at capturing the spirit of Nashville but, the mature lyric content notwithstanding, it’s yet another fish out of water scenario. Even if Sting owned the requisite good-ol’-boy baritone, the number’s arrangement is way too complex for formula C&W. On “All Four Seasons” he tries his hand at manufacturing a Stax Records-styled groove but it lacks the emotional sincerity it desperately needs and it’s too tight to possess the imperfect human element that allows this kind of music to develop real character.

“La Belle Dame Sans Regrets” is a welcome swing back towards a jazzier frame of mind and it’s a relief to hear Vinnie’s drums get to do more than hold down a straight beat for a change. Kirkland’s piano solo is slyly seductive and, while the track may be a bit too AOR for many, it’s a big step up from the three cuts that precede it. (I’m sure the lyrics are fine & dandy but I don’t know French so it could be about fish fillets for all I know.) He returns to his folksy roots for “Valparaiso,” a cool waltz that features the ever-hypnotic Northumbrian Pipes and vibrant acoustic guitars. The song picks up momentum during the second section thanks to Colaiuta’s tactful drums and percussion as Sting delivers poetic words about a sailor returning home from a long stint at sea. As a bonus, the group segues into a delightful little jazzy jam at the end. Our blonde-haired hero goes stripped-down Springsteen for “Lithium Sunset” but it’s a futile tack because, to quote Dirty Harry, “a man’s got to know his limitations” and Sting obviously didn’t. Bottom line is this: a harmonica, pedal steel guitar and a ten-gallon hat don’t make you country.

My lasting impression of Sting at this stage of his career is that of a gifted artist who didn’t know what to do with himself. I’m sure that millions of his followers who love Motown and/or C&W (I don’t care much for either) thought that this was a marvelous example of Sting competently displaying his versatility and wide range of musical acumen and they have every right to hold that opinion. I don’t share it. Steve Winwood’s an exemplary singer but if he went hip-hop crazy I have a strong notion that the final product would be, um… less than extraordinary in my estimation and I wouldn’t be pleased. That’s how I view this album. There’s some quality material included here but, since the response from his loyal fans was a documented shrug and sales weren’t nearly what his label had hoped for after waiting over three years for him to make it, I think that mercury wasn’t the only thing falling in ’96. So was Sting’s credibility.
Share this review

Review Comments

Post a public comment below | Send private message to the reviewer
Please login to post a shout
No shouts posted yet. Be the first member to do so above!


Rating by members, ranked by custom algorithm
Albums with 30 ratings and more
A Love Supreme Post Bop
Buy this album from our partners
Kind of Blue Cool Jazz
Buy this album from our partners
The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady Progressive Big Band
Buy this album from our partners
My Favorite Things Hard Bop
Buy this album from our partners

New Jazz Artists

New Jazz Releases

Isolation Nu Jazz
Buy this album from MMA partners
Windisch Quartett : Chaos 21st Century Modern
Buy this album from MMA partners
Lead Belly Reimagined Blues
Buy this album from MMA partners
More new releases

New Jazz Online Videos

Ridin' High
js· 9 hours ago
js· 12 hours ago
Along with the Tide
js· 14 hours ago
More videos

New JMA Jazz Forum Topics

More in the forums

New Site interactions


Latest Jazz News


More in the forums

Social Media

Follow us