Intersope/A&M Records proudly released Sting's new solo album today, featuring original compositions from his upcoming musical theatre debut. For Sting, it's a tough day of reckoning when most of his hard core fans have lined up not to cheer but reluctantly having to defend his latest recording (see i-tunes customer reviews). The Last Ship simply could not carry the weight of being Sting's new album for one fundamental reason: It promised too much, too soon. The book and the specific role of characters for the musical theatre piece are presently in the dark, so what passes as a narrative sounds like Lord of The Dance meets The Iceman Cometh, sailing away with the out-of-work shipyard workers stationed at a historic English bar.
The Last Ship feels like a series of demo tracks that Sting hummed during a set of home studio sessions while entertaining friends. It is baffling to the outraged fans that this effort could be promoted as Sting's solo album or a featured musical theatre recording; it plaintively fails to meet either of these monumental expectations.
The hopes for the album did not just grow because of the pop-rock expectations of Sting's die hard fans. The main failure of the strategy stems from not recognizing the obvious notion that Sting's music already lends itself well to musical theatre. It really did not need an opposite navigation.
Another failure is when a cast of characters are ineffectively portrayed by Sting with a barely tolerable (and shifting) accent; it makes it very hard to follow a flowing theme. (Workers' struggles, themes on fatherhood and protagonist's love affair are all a blur.) It is never advisable to portray a full musical without a proper cast recording.
The final ingredient that kills the album as a solo and/or a musical theatre LP is that the orchestrations are unbelievably weak. The crooning monotony of Sting's range along with his verbosity (is there space for a book for this musical?) is begging for us not to compare this body of work with his classics.
After many repetitious cycles to get an idea of what's going on with this record, there are a few songs that deserve an honorable mention without testing the patience of disappointed fans: The song 'And Yet' streams away from the general malaise of the album to give us a briefly awakened energy, a luscious arrangement that sits very well with Sting's lush voice. It is one of the few tracks on the record to expose a vulnerable and deeply missed side of Sting. Kudos to 'Practical Arrangement'; an original approach to age old unrequited coupling compromises, in which the aphoristic lyrics really work. 'What Have We Got' promises to be a memorable number and Jimmy Nail's involvement seals the deal in making it one of the most effective hooks of The Last Ship. Other collaborations with Becky Unthank, Brian Johnson and Jo Lawry may be acceptable in an intimate live concert setting, but do not imbue a remarkable recording imprint.
The less said about the rest of the songs the better. The testosterone driven folk melodies from Sting's own British Isles can only be tolerated half an hour before the real traditional tunes kick off on St. Patrick's Day and preferably one hour after the real drinking begins.