Review Summary: Out of the wound, a lovely flower grew.
How do you deal with loss"
When Sting lost his mother, the former lead singer of a band called "The Police" (you may or may not know one of their songs by heart) turned to what he knew best: Pop. Explosive, joyous, infectious Pop. The very first song, "The Lazarus Heart", makes direct reference to wounds, healing, the sort of love a mother might feel for her son. Birds fly out of a window. And I'd be a fool if I forgot to mention the power imbued within the simple words I used in my tagline, speaking of flowers growing out of wounds in a direct an unpretentious way DalĂ* might have appreciated.
The album "...Nothing Like The Sun" is chock-full of imagery like this. In "Be Still My Beating Heart", a song that constantly changes and loops back onto itself when listened to carefully, Sting sings about his heart drowning in a sea of emotion. While this sentiment might sound trite (or, God forbid, cliche) in another performer's hands, here, it draws parallels to the sort of deep melancholy Sting is adept at cultivating. Still, he doesn't fully surrender to it, at least not in the first half of the album. The Jazz interlude in "Englishman in New York" and the joyous "sooner or later"-chorus in "History Will Teach Us Nothing" show him at his most inventive, much like the bouncing rhythm section he employs in "Straight To My Heart". "We'll be Together" jumps around like a young puppy discovering the power of its legs, and is as far away from sadness as a Pop song could possibly be. Nevertheless, melancholy is still an important emotion in Sting's repertoire, and the show-stopping "Fragile" is still an important testament to the way a simple acoustic guitar riff can hug the words it accompanies so closely, so lavishly, that they become intrinsically linked forever. Sting is lucky to have made another song as good as this with "Shape of my Heart", but his melancholy soul is ultimately more at home here than it ever could be in "Ten Summoner's Tales."
However, no album is perfect. "Rock Steady" is fun but slight, and "They Dance Alone", while beautiful at times, outstays its welcome by about two and a half minutes. Sometimes, Sting can seem pretentious, sure of how he wants to say something, but still undecided on what that something is. None of these blunders can hinder the stellar moments from shining bright, though.
Sting's cover of "Little Wing", especially the line "Now she's walking through the clouds", are coloured by a deep feeling of longing and regret. Hiram Bullock's guitar and Branford Marsalis's saxophone on this song are some of this album's highlights, virtuoso performances that use Hendrix' song the same way old Jazz artists used gospel, as an inspiring blueprint to bounce their own ideas off of. And Sting sing-screaming "anything" nigh countless times still manages to send a chill down my spine, even though I've spent the better half of a decade listening to and loving this album.
And then there's the closer. "The Secret Marriage" is one of my favourite last songs on any album. I've spent countless days turning the words over in my head, imagining the secret lover's meeting in many settings and times while Ken Helman's bare piano fills my ear. The melody was borrowed from a Brecht theatre piece, but Sting makes it completely his own. And though it's hopeful, the final conclusion is probably the most pessimistic thing on the album:
"No flowers on the altar/no white veil in your hair/no maiden dress to alter/no bible oath to swear/the secret marriage vow is never spoken/the secret marriage never can be broken."
A promise that can't be broken can't be kept, either, and the absence of flowers on the altar is a stark reminder that even those that grow from wounds eventually fade. But oh, if you loop the album, the quiet of "The Secret Marriage" leads right into the bright synths of "The Lazarus Heart", two songs that couldn't be more polar opposites. I'm still not sure what Sting is trying to tell me, or what happened here on accident, way back when looping albums into themselves wasn't a practice at all, barring some exceptions. The only conclusion I can come to is that even the lovers who live inside "The Secret Marriage" can take solace in the fact that, yes, flowers grow from wounds. And they can dance into the night to the beat of the Lazarus Heart and Sting's album.
Taken at a surface level, it's slightly melancholic Pop with a jazzy edge. But if you take a deeper look, there's probably nothing else like it.