Sting: "Symphonicities"

Well, I have never tried to write an album review before.  I happen to have found an album which I feel is totally worthy of a review and while it probably deserves better prose than it will receive in my blog post, I will attempt not to insult the artistic value of this album in the following paragraphs.

Almost a month ago I recall being with a great friend heading to lunch when he said to me- "Did you hear the latest Sting album?" Indeed I had not.  While I am most certainly a fan of pretty much anything Sting does, I had no idea how much I would love this album.  You see, Sting has released an album not on a typical mainstream label like you might expect from the former front-man of the Police, but Deutsche Grammophon a label best known for their fine recordings of Lang Lang, and the Emerson String Quartet playing the likes of Chopin, Mahler, and other pillars of the Classical world.  The content of which is all original songs by Sting arranged for orchestra and small string ensemble.  The backup ensemble includes the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the New York Chamber Ensemble, and even Chris Botti.

The album opens up in your face with a bombastic rendition of "Next To You."  Personally it knocked me out of my seat, but just when I was about to give up, the disc segue-ways into "Englishman in New York" which is a very tasteful, palatable, up beat rendition.  This leads us gently into my all time favorite, "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic."  From there on there is little doubt in my mind that this CD will be on permanent rotation in my listening room.  Of course he leaves no stone unturned and in any Sting Classical retrospective, you couldn't be certain you were finished until you heard a fine rendition of Roxanne which comes around mid-disc.  The disc finishes up with "She's Too Good for Me" and "The Pirate's Bride" leaving the listener most satisfied at not only Sting's performance, but the great arrangements and settings crafted by Rob Mathes, the arranger and producer on the project.

Upon some searching I found a CD review/defense written by Mathes himself which gives greater detail into this disc.  Some excerpts of which are below:

"The story: He (Sting) was invited by both The Philadelphia Orchestra and The
Chicago Symphony Orchestra to put on a concert of his music arranged for
 orchestra. A tour was planned based on the appeal of those concerts.
They were a thrill for him. In his words, "what a joy and honor it is to
 hear songs I often wrote on a guitar alone in a room played by a group
of peerless musicians". All that said, the concerts highlighted the
difficulties of a venture like this. Many music stars do Standards
records and other similarly minded projects to appeal to adults who
attend Symphonic concerts and higher brow Arts events but still love
great Pop music. These projects are occasionally successful but they can
 be artistically dreadful. Is there anything worse than a series of
ballads peppered with cloying Strings?? This was exactly what Sting did
not want to do and in fact his earliest direction to the arrangers was
to "please not give the orchestra endlessly held chords that are
beautiful but are better for putting people to sleep than entertaining

"Write with adventure and invention", he said. (If you listen
carefully to my arrangement of "Roxanne" or Dave Hartley's arrangement
of "I Hung My Head", you hear intertwining melodic lines in the
orchestra and not just lush chords.) "
"...He did not intend to just make another record of his songs but he really
 was moved and galvanized by the experience of hearing the songs in a
new way. The concerts have gotten terrific reviews and while rehearsing
in London we decided to record some of the material at Abbey Road
Studios, where the rehearsals took place. The recordings I had done in
the late winter came out so well also that we realized there could
possibly be a full record here when added to the Abbey Road stuff. I
kept experimenting in New York and discovered "End Of The Game" and
"Pirate's Bride". I told Sting I could not believe these beautiful songs
 were virtually unknown, "Pirate's Bride" in particular being one of his
 most beautiful ballads. He gave me license to try things including his
idea of evoking a classic British Colliery Brass Band for the remarkable
 "We Work The Black Seam", one of my favorites on the project. The one
thing even the naysayers would have to admit is that we avoided some
terrible sand traps: 

1. The record is not all ballads. "Next To You", "She's Too Good"
and "End Of The Game", among others, feature demanding orchestral
writing and yet take the originals and don't distort them beyond

2. The ballads all have a concept behind them--"Roxanne" came from
Sting's suggestion of the original obsessive Bossa Nova groove, the one
he used on All This Time, the concert DVD recorded on 9/11, "My Ain'
True Love", arranged magnificently by Steven Mercurio, is haunted and
not cloying in the least, evoking a Civil War battlefield beautifully,
and "Pirate's Bride" features haunted Oboe and Jo Lawry's incandescent
voice. One of the strongest songs from the tour ballad wise, "Why Should
 I Cry For You" makes use of the gorgeous Island Of Souls melody, the
melodic germ that propels the whole Soul Cages record. It is available
elsewhere as a bonus cut.

3. The arrangements do not go off on a million tangents nor do they
drown the songs in either syrup (in my opinion) or a million endless
interludes, which is often the case with projects like this."

I think it is quite obvious that Mathes and Sting did not fall into those pitfalls outlined above, but instead present a great, fresh perspective on repertoire that we all know and love.  I think it is so great when an established artist reaches a point where their bad-assness allows them to take on creative artistic projects such as this.  I have a feeling most artists work their whole careers just to be able to go out and create... without worry for charts, singles, etc.  Clearly,  Sting has reached that point, and this alongside his other more creative product of late have given him a great avenue for his creativity.  I give this album a definite two thumbs up and my highest recommendation.