Pop/Rock/World CD Reviews

Sting – Symphonicities – Deutsche Grammophon

Pop icon lends a symphonic twist to popular songbook.

Published on September 11, 2010

Sting – Symphonicities  – Deutsche Grammophon

Sting – Symphonicities  – Deutsche Grammophon – B0014464-02, 55:50 ****½:

(Sting – vocals, acoustic guitar; Jo Lawry – backing vocals; Rob Mathes – piano, acoustic guitar; David Finck – acoustic bass; Ira Coleman – bass; David Cossin – percussion; Joe Bonadio – percussion; Dominic Miller – guitar; with The Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, The London Players; The New York Chamber Consort; and others.)

The use of classical accompaniment to popular music can be problematic. Orchestral arrangement can overwhelm the song construct, sounding overwrought or disproportionate. If the songwriter enters into a collaborative dialogue, then the outline of gimmickry is mitigated. Consequently, these forays have produced mixed results, with few successful outcomes. Sting, who extricated himself from the most popular musical group in the world at its peak, is no stranger to unpredictable decisions. Not long ago he did an album of Dowland songs with lute accompaniment.

On his latest, release, Symphonicities (perhaps a sardonic reference to the ubiquitous, final Police album), the risk has been validated. Twelve tracks, previously associated with the Police or solo recordings, have been adapted to symphonic interpretation. Three orchestras and reliable backup players have synthesized these compositions into refreshing incarnations. Essentially, the core sensibilities of the songs remain intact. The differences are reflected in the accents of the expanded instrumentation. The somber theme of “We Work The Black Seam” benefits from the terse horn chorus. A poignant brooding tone is more organic than the synthesizers accomplished on the original version. “Every Little Things She Does”, from the Police album, Ghost in the Machine, takes on a joyous sweeping tone with the woodwind and string introduction. Aided by flute and harp inflection (especially at the end), an ethereal touch redefines the number. Another Police staple, “Roxanne,” devoid of the ska rhythms, sounds introspective and melancholic, more indicative of Sting’s performances as a solo artist.

Not relying exclusively on full orchestration, “You Will Be My Ain True Love” has a simple Celtic arrangement (with a haunting violin line), and is coalesced by Jo Lawry’s delicate vocals. Two songs, “When We Dance” and “Englishman In New York” remain faithful to the original recordings, without frivolous intrusion. Sting’s expressive vocals come to life in “I Burn For You”, as an eerily hypnotic atmosphere permeates the track. Percussion is an integral part of the early Police notable, “Next To You”, capturing the spirit of the raging trio. The jazzy intonation of “She’s Too Good For Me”, surprisingly, does not feel augmented by the classical ensemble.

In the case of Symphonicities, full orchestra enhancement proves to be a worthwhile gamble.         

TrackList: Next To You; Englishman In New York; Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic; I Hung My Head; You Will Be My Ain True Love; Roxanne; When We Dance; The End Of The Game; I Burn For You; We Work The Black Seam; She’s Too Good For Me; The Pirate’s Bride.

—  Robbie Gerson

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