Sting is no stranger to the world of classical music, or accusations of being, next perhaps to Bono, rock’s most pretentious artist still touring. But on Symphonicities he attempts to do the unthinkable: craft a fun album by digging into his vault of classics and reworking them in a classical bent. To many, this may verge on sacrilege, but it’s surprising how frequently the concept works. Though some of the songs don’t really need the classical treatment, it’s impressive how much fun it seems Sting is finally having with these songs, and the album’s more of a “grower” than I ever would have expected.
The songs which fare the best are classics from when he was still a member of the Police. “Next To You” maintains the song’s energy while amply focusing on the wall of strings and allowing Sting’s voice to ring through while providing serious momentum to open the album. “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” dares to build from quiet strings and winds into a lushly orchestrated example of why The Police were able to so revitalize radio in the early ’80s. “Roxanne” also fares well, though it’s one of the tracks on the album which may be most likely to leave purists wondering why he’d want to mess with what was already such a good thing. After repeat listens, however, the classical arrangement successfully brings out the haunting, obsessive nature of the song.
Other highlights on the album include “You Will Be My Ain True Love,” which really improves with the bulkier orchestral arrangement compared to the more bare-bones interpretation from T Bone Burnett’s Cold Mountain soundtrack. “We Work The Black Seam” digs into Sting’s 1986 stunning jazz album The Dream of the Blue Turtles with an impressive arrangement of one of the man’s strongest politically-motivated songs. The plight of ’80s coal miners in England feels like it could be perfectly laid atop the current suffering of the Gulf’s downtrodden fishermen in a post Deepwater Horizon era. If you’re going to spend a dollar on just one song from the album, you can’t make a stronger case than for “We Work The Black Seam.”
The album’s biggest flaw, however, is that it dares to leave off it’s namesake’s strongest songs. Where is “Synchronicity II,” which could have been dramatically reworked on this effort to add a little more rock heft? Or “Every Breath You Take,” which, if not slavishly remade, could have been the album’s strongest number and a ready-made single?
That, and the fact that the album’s second half suffers from serious drag, makes this an album that can be easily recommended for those who are familiar with Sting’s entire career, but which could prove daunting for those who wanted to hear more of his better-known songs given the classical treatment. Still, this is the most fun Sting has had in the last 10 years.
Reprinted with permission from Stereo Subversion.