Review Summary: Sting delivers a grandiose album and critical acclaim, eight years after the Police broke up. With poetic lyrics, restrained but powerful vocals and a good musical lineup, it is some of his best work to date.
With a new year upon us, Sting has led a musical career of over three decades, both with The Police and as a solo artist. He has been largely successful with both and continues to be successful. He has also been respected as a strong environmentalist and even though he has never received the attention Bono has, he has made significant pushes for better environmental standards and has brought attention to the crisis in the Amazon forest. When he’s not saving the world, he’s making solo albums that differ tremendously from album to album. The Soul Cages could be his greatest work to date, an album that combines different musical expressions layered on some dark and heartfelt subject matter.
While having released a few solo albums after The Police broke up in 1983, it was eight years later that Soul Cages brought much praise, #1 songs on the charts and a Grammy for Best Hard Rock Song. The entire album is built around the death of Sting’s father, who was a sailor and much of the songs envelop themselves deep into the hardship of his father’s life and his passing. Sometimes when bands attempt to write songs of this nature, it may fail to encircle the qualities to make a great song, leaving it dreary, cheesy or preachy. Luckily, none of this applies to this album, where the lyrics are second to none and to put it simply, poetry. The musical arrangements are quite beautiful and to say the least, haunting at times.
Island Of Lost Souls- A haunting song clocking at nearly seven minutes with some of the best lyrics throughout the whole album. It describes in detail the life of a hardworking sailor, whose son wishes for a better life. It also describes in haunting detail with the help of Sting’s ghostly vocals, divulging in each syllable of the verses, the father’s ship being sent off to sea and the industrial accident that follows. The tone changes throughout the song, with the verse and pre-chorus portrayed very dark while the chorus becomes light and optimistic. Lines such as “Billy would cry when he thought of the future” and “A working man works till the industry dies” will send chills up your spine. Surprisingly, it won’t feel like six and a half minutes. 5/5
All This Time – Beginning with a vibrant mandolin and drum melody, it brings to life a new song and spawned this as a single. Usually, I end up forgetting about this song and with that, had forgotten how great the song was and how the lyrics are even better. I feel there are some resemblances in this song to Paul Simon’s “Call Me Al” at least with the specific tempo. Even though throughout the whole song, he is describing what is going on outside, it works so perfectly with the song. There is both some religious metaphors (as throughout the whole album, but somewhat subtle) but also a questioning of faith. Sting has an amazing ability to overpower you with his voice without much force. The song grows on you. 4.75/5
Mad About You – From the title, it sounds like a love song. In a strange way, it is a love song, through subtle discussions of the lengths he would go to have her and the emptiness that he would feel inside without her. The lyrics may not sound like any type of love story due to the nature of the lyrics but Sting has been known to use clever tactics in songs (“Every Breath You Take” – stalker song?). While discussing dark secluded valleys and the city that lies in broken pieces, he’ll bring up the chorus: “With every prison blown to dust my enemies walk free/ with every kingdom blown to dust and fall into the sea/ I’m mad about you.” There’s some great work with the saxophone but the song fails to have much of a build-up. 4/5
Jeremiah Blues (pt. 1) - When you think you have a grasp on this album, this song jumps out of nowhere, a very jazz-rock melody, as if they emerged into an upbeat coffeehouse. You finally get to hear some bass from Sting, slapping and popping away. Unless you read the lyrics, it may be hard to determine what the song was about but it seems to suggest some of the problems in modern society and the blame that’s placed. “Everyone wants to look the other way when something wicked this way comes.” Sting manages to accompany and satisfy all audiences. 4.5/5
Why Should I Cry For You? – In this song, he begins to plant his feet back down into the specific subject matter about his father. This has some beautiful guitar work, with a very odd intro and much too long of an ending. The vocals actually overpower the lyrics, especially at one pre-verse and the ending chorus. It is definite that you will get chills when he belts out “Dark angels follow me/ over a godless sea.” It is one of my favorites to listen to but there seems to be that more could have been done to continue the climactic feel that was present in specific parts instead of a nearly minute long outro of the same guitar and some strange noises. One leaves the song a bit abandoned. 3.25/5
St. Agnes and the Burning Train – The instrumental, which is a guitar duet. It’s pretty simple and short but sounds terrific. It sounds like something that would be played in the background of a silent movie involving a love story of some kind. Even though a short song, it can become repetitive. Still, definitely worth a listen. 4.25/5
The Wild Wild Sea – This is definitely one of the best on the album. Clocking in at the same time as Island of Lost Souls, over six and a half minutes, it brings once more a haunting and realistic description of some dark adventures on the sea. There are a lot of lyrics involved and all the instruments involved are brought together, building up throughout the song. The same tune stays throughout the whole song from its somber beginnings to its impressive gratifying climax ending, sounding perfectly like a storm at sea. It may bore those who lose attention after a minute or so. It’s another song that ends up growing on you. 4.75/ 5
The Soul Cages - The Grammy-winning (not that Grammys really matter) ROCK song of the album. With a simple but audible bass line, powerful guitar riff that reminds me for some reason of “Money For Nothing.” Once more, the sea is used as a metaphor and the fisherman and sailors are once again deeply intertwined. Once again the lyrics are impressive, dealing with the sea as the burial grounds (and therefore, the “soul cages”) for those who sail them. Around the 4:15 mark, it jumps into a section of Island of Souls, which seems like an odd transition but seems to work. Some lyrics include: “Why should I whistle when the cage bird sings?/ If I lose my wager with the king of the sea/ you’ll spend the rest of forever in a cage with me” 5/5
When The Angels Fall – Clocking over 7 minutes, the most haunting and dark song on the album, hands down. While some people find the song overly long, it is definitely captivating, especially in the last few minutes, continuously repeating “When the angels fall.” While there are some religious aspects involved (obviously), it makes a beautiful song. Even at over seven minutes, with the last drum roll and cymbal clash, you’re still wishing for more. It takes a while to get into it, as with a few of these songs, but it makes for an excellent closer. 4.5/5
Alrighty then. Done with that. Time to get back to reality.
Pros: Lyrics, vocals, large variety of instruments
Cons: Some songs may be overly long