Instead of a latter day arse kicking, we get a polite stroll around the block.
On his latest recording, Sting doesn’t sound tired or defeated but instead incredibly mannered. 57th & 9th is not exactly painting by numbers, but it’s closer to Ducks on a Pond than Guernica. There are some rocking moments but nothing that grabs you by the viscera and rattles around your innards like Mr. Sumner’s best stuff traditionally has. For those of us who have yearned for him to pump up the volume since at least The Soul Cages–a record that’s now 25 years old–there’s not much reward here.
“I Can’t Stop Thinking About You” kicks the stalls nicely, and you start to miss The Police. That’s not necessarily a good thing as Sting has always distinguished his solo work from that of his former band quite nicely, even if some hardcore fans have seen that as a detriment. What he hasn’t always done is distinguished each of his solo works from the one that came before. By the middle of this record, the pop legend has settled comfortably into that most deadly of places: the middle of the road. The whispery “Inshallah” would be a superior song from virtually anyone else; instead, it’s a middling piece from a master who sounds like he loses interest in the song each second it whirs by. The final cut, “Empty Chair,” is the sound of a man contemplating his own death and legacy. It could have been a great moment but is instead a wan imitation of a man who can bare his teeth and sink them deep into our hearts like no one else when he wants to.
“50,000” looks around at the thinning herd of rockers from the 1970s and 1980s and makes a go at kicking posterior, but only gets as far as the back of the knees. It tries too hard (and words such as “comrades” don’t help), falters and then fades into the hallways of forgotten and forgettable rock songs as quickly as one of Neil Young’s mid-1990s albums. “Down Down Down” is close to classic Sting, finding tension and release in ample supply amid the verses and choruses and even sounding, at times, like he’s happy to be alive. Of the most heartbreaking pieces is “Petrol Head.” It’s heartbreaking because it leaves us begging for a Police reunion and wondering how hard it could be to get the trio to bang out one last fast and furious LP just because it’d satisfy our curiosity, probably wouldn’t suck and would make us pine a little less for the loss of that great band.
So, instead of a latter day arse kicking, we get a polite stroll around the block, a little proof that the man is alive and aware that he has strengths, though he sounds a little timid about playing to them. Polite has rarely suited Sting well and it doesn’t here. Stalwart fans may find more to praise as they wander through these fields of rust. The rest of us? Don’t look for your Sting here. He’s gone.