REVIEW / Sting: something simple: Sting in 'sense of humour' shock. Giles Smith reports from the Albert Hall
Thursday 18 March 1993
OK, it's not exactly Groucho Marx, but this is Sting we're talking about here, a man not renowned for comic turns. There's been much talk of a recent character shift, easing off on the clenched seriousness. There's a fair chance that this is mostly just convenient PR, an easy narrative for the magazines to help give his new album a bit of top-spin. Sting may jaw on about the rainforests far less frequently these days, but then again, there he is in this month's Esquire, demonstrating for the interviewer the yoga exercise with which he vacuums his bowels. Plus ca change.
Still, there's definitely a light airiness blowing through this current touring show. It sets Sting at the heart of a simple but extraordinary band, his best context (witness the Police); Vinnie Colaiuta plays drums; Dominic Miller is the skinny guitarist, almost completely obscured behind a floppy fringe; and at the keyboards sits the remarkable David Sancious, who seems at times to be playing with five hands. They were with him last time round, touring to promote The Soul Cages which, caught up with Sting's own writer's block and explicitly about his father's death, was by no means the album of a party animal. Still, even then this band kicked life into songs that lay defiantly flat on the record. Their reward is to return and have a lot more fun messing with the numbers from Ten Summoner's Tales, an album that isn't, strictly speaking, 'about' very much other than Sting's enjoyment in making it.
We're told he knocked the songs together in a fortnight, and it's meant as a compliment that, played loud and clear here, they sound as though they took him a good deal less. Some of the numbers are quick and unfussy in a manner you could reasonably have thought you would never hear from Sting after the Police broke up and he started fooling around with jazz musicians. The album does have its complications - its occasional self-involved curlicues, its moments of puzzling 7:4 time. But these seem to have more to do with noodling about for a laugh than with voyaging into the (doubtless fascinating) recesses of Sting's soul. 'Seven Days', played here with additional bounce and snap, is a gorgeous song with a chorus that, unsually in pop, evolves, rather than simply walks a nice phrase round the block a few times. 'The Shape of My Heart', meanwhile, is this album's 'Fragile', sweet and spacey.
The show doffs its cap to the Beatles by taking a brave stab at 'A Day in the Life' and including 'Penny Lane' as a karaoke encore. But there were far more convincing gestures towards a group who were nearly as successful. 'Here's a song by the Police,' said Sting, and the backdrop lit up, while the band charged noisily into 'Synchronicity', unseating the entire stalls area.
We also got a rather woozy and inflated 'Roxanne'. More reliable by far were the numbers that were austerely clipped - 'Fortress Around Your Heart', say, and the encores, 'Every Breath You Take' and 'Fragile', which brought him ovations. These are never entirely guaranteed in the Albert Hall's muggy hush. It must be the way Sting tells them.
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Alan Rickman admits editing 'terrible' script with friends in Pizza Hut behind backs of writers on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
- 2 18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
- 3 US? China? India? The 10 biggest economies in 2030 will be...
- 4 'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling