Sting is unfairly maligned in the media as much for his public persona as his music.
Sting is unfairly maligned in the media as much for his public persona as his music. His philanthropy and outspoken views on tantric sex became fodder for hack jokes on late-night television, which may do more harm to the public than anything Sting did. His musical projects have been criticized for curious turns towards electronic music, Renaissance composer John Dowland and a reggae venture with Shaggy (only the last of which truly deserves a raised eyebrow). His latest, My Songs, is under scrutiny for a different reason: it comprises new versions of from the Police and his solo career. Sting isn’t the first musician to rerecord previously released songs, but the inevitable question arises: why revisit work already in the public mindset?
To dance, it seems. Produced primarily by Dave Audé (Bruno Mars, Selina Gomez), My Songs is heavy on electronic elements and dance beats. “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” is loaded with faux-disco grooves and hiccupping slap bass riffs. If we didn’t have The Dream of the Blue Turtles it would be fine enough…but we do. The 1985 original balanced dynamics and textures while this sounds overly produced and digital, almost like Sting is wearing clothes a little too tight and too young for his age. “Brand New Day” and “Desert Rose” undergo the same vibe, essentially remixed with added beats and background vocals. Like most of My Songs, their arrangements are streamlined, cutting out the gradual build that gave them a sense of momentum before the chorus hits.
Given current technology, it’s a given that rerecording past tracks would involve added production and digital manipulations. This is in line with Sting’s past; listen to any of his previous records and it’s clear he values the expanse and depth offered by extra studio time. He regularly experiments with arrangements and samples and flirts with jazz and enriched sonic textures, resources severely limited during his tenure with the punk-influenced trio where he made his name. Yet when Sting returns to Police tracks like “Demolition Man” and “Every Breath You Take,” he admirably leans in a different direction, keeping with the rock edge of the originals instead of adding unnecessary elements.
“Message in A Bottle” is more or less on par with the original. Scanning YouTube reveals it’s essentially a recording of his live arrangement, replete with snaking guitar riffs and chanting background vocals. Amidst shoehorned dance grooves and sky-high layers of instruments, it becomes evident that the album’s purpose is to capture Sting’s live show. Their first appearance on previous albums were the result of experimenting in the studio and collaborating with world-class musicians. Live shows demand more energy, and thus we have this revisitation of classic tracks under the auspices of crowd singalongs and programmed beats.
Which is fine. Aside from some odd choices in programmed beats, My Songs comes off as a tour souvenir of sorts. It isn’t groundbreaking, nor is it damning. New mixes and rerecorded vocals present new takes on classic songs, and while they may add new dimensions, they don’t necessarily improve upon the originals. Adding descant background vocals and swapping nylon for a steel string guitar on “Shape of My Heart” delivers new colors, giving insight into how the former Gordon Sumner has developed this tender song. It doesn’t negate the original, it simply updates it for new, digital times.
Is My Songs a cash grab for a new tour? Perhaps, but it’s not soulless. Remixing and rerecording everything to be a carbon copy of the original would be soulless. At the very least, credit is due for giving these tracks a new spin, be it with added reverb or bumped up tempos. Credit is also due to Sting himself; say what you about his lyrical prowess, the man knows how to craft melody and harmony into catchy, durable tunes.