Sting celebrates his time as a solo artist with the aptly named 25 Years, a four-disc set featuring three CDs of 45 remastered songs selected by Sting and a DVD of a previously unreleased live concert recorded at New York City’s Irving Plaza. The discs are held in a hardcover book that contains complete lyrics, photos, and new commentary by Sting. Only the music will be covered in this review because that was all that was made available.
While on tour at the peak of The Police’s popularity in support of Synchronicity, their last studio album, lead singer and bassist Sting decided he wanted a solo career due to a number of factors. When the tour was over in 1984, the band took a break and worked on individual projects. Sting recorded and then in 1985 toured in support of his first solo album, The Dream of the Blue Turtles, which led to the concert film/live album Bring on the Night.
In June 1986, The Police reunited for three dates on the Amnesty International A Conspiracy of Hope Tour. The following month, they met in a studio to create a new album, though Andy Summers wrote in the Message in a Box set, “It was clear Sting had no real intention of writing any new songs for the Police.” The results were remakes of “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” and “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” and the end of the band. After nine Grammys and most of his studio albums going at least Platinum, going solo worked out all right as he dabbled in a variety of genres.
Disc 1 starts with the first single from the first album, “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free.” The lyrics contrast with the mindset of the obsessed ex-lover in The Police’s “Every Breath You Take,” the lyrics of which are riffed on during the Caribbean-sounding “Love Is The Seventh Wave.” Inspiration abounds with the jazzy “Consider Me Gone” and the Anne Rice-influenced “Moon Over Bourbon.”
The tracks from Bring on the Night are three Police tunes with his touring jazz band and he lets the musicians shine. Kenny Kirkland takes an extended lead on the keys during the lengthy “Bring on the Night/When the World Is Running Down You Make the Best of What’s Still Around” (Live) and saxophonist Branford Marsalis shines on “Driven To Tears.” The obscure “I Burn For You” (Live) is taken from the Brimstone and Treacle soundtrack.
The remainder of the disc concludes with songs from 1987’s …Nothing Like the Sun. Sting is joined by former bandmate Summers on “Be Still My Beating Heart.” On “They Dance Alone (Cueca Solo),” a heartbreaking song about the response of Chilean women to the loss of loved ones at the hands of the Pinochet regime, Ruben Blades sings with Sting. Also appearing are Eric Clapton and Mark Knopfler on guitar, the latter no doubt returning the favor after Sting’s memorable contribution on Dire Straits’ smash hit “I Want My MTV, but their work is restrained. I wouldn’t even have known they were there. Sandwiched between soft, gentle songs like “Fragile” and “Secret Marriage,” Sting brings da funk on “We’ll Be Together,” where he continues referencing past works with lyrics from “If You Love Somebody….”
Disc 2 moves into a new decade yet Sting continues to demonstrate what a talented songwriter he is as his jazz proclivities give away to pop sensibilities. Half the tracks from 1991’s The Soul Cages, a concept album where Sting dealt with the death of his father, open the disc. Most notable among the singles released that appear are “All This Time” about a young man named Billy burying his father at sea. We then get half of the Ten Summoner’s Tales from 1993, including the conflicted “If I Ever Lose My Faith In You” with the organ and sax contributing to an upbeat, peppy sound contrasting with the downbeat lyrics where the narrator has little faith in anything. The Chromatic harmonica and Northumbrian smallpipes in the arrangement of “Fields Of Gold” contribute to the new age/adult contemporary sound that began shape Sting’s music. “It’s Probably Me” had been a collaboration between Sting, Eric Clapton, Michael Kamen, and David Sanborn for Lethal Weapon 3. His re-recorded version appears here. “Shape Of My Heart” might sound familiar to some as the backing track has been sampled in a number of R&B and hip hop songs.
“When We Dance,” a love song of great yearning, was a new track on Fields of Gold: The Best of Sting 1984-1994, proving he wasn’t done yet. The disc closes out with tracks from 1996’s Mercury Falling. “I Hung My Head” is a touching murder ballad about a young man shamed about the life that he took. The organ and horns on the bridges add a gospel aspect to the song. Johnny Cash covered it on the last album released during his lifetime American IV: The Man Comes Around. On “I Was Brought To My Senses,” Sting creates the feeling for the listener by waiting until a few verses are sung before the instruments join in, but he doesn’t have the girl too long before he is sleeping alone and dreaming of her in “You Still Touch Me.” The disc closes out with “I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying,” which became a county hit when it was re-recorded by Toby Keith with Sting.
Disc 3 finds Sting continuing the expansion of his musical palette by working with different artists. This is the most dynamic disc of the set. It opens with tracks from 1999’s Brand New Day where Sting incorporates world music into his work as heard on “A Thousand Years” and “Desert Rose,” the latter of which Algerian Raï singer Cheb Mami. Stevie Wonder’s signature harmonica playing rings out on the title track. The bonus track “Send Your Love” (Dave Aude Remix) from 2003’s Sacred Love is a great fusion of Sting and techno. It’s one of the highlights of the set. Sting goes R&B on “Whenever I Say Your Name,” a duet with Mary J. Blige.
Skipping over 2006’s Songs from the Labyrinth, an album of Elizabethan-era composer John Dowland’s music recorded by Sting working with and Bosnian lutenist Edin Karamazov, the next songs are from the 2009’s seasonal album, If On a Winter’s Night.… The arrangements on “Soul Cake” and “The Hounds Of Winter” lack the studio polish of previous songs and exhibit a greater authenticity in the music.
In 2010, Sting toured with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra performing reinterpretations of his songs as they did on the companion album Symphonicities. The orchestra does an excellent job evoking the different emotions on display in The Police’s “Next To You” and Sting’s “We Work The Black Seam.” The album concludes with a new mix of “Never Coming Home” and a pair from “Live In Berlin,” “Russians” (Live) and “The End Of The Game” (Live).
Few musicians have been successful for 25 Years, and even fewer with the variety in their work as Sting has showcased with the genre-crossing selection of songs included in this box set. He’s had a career to envy and an output to be enjoyed.
For those that want a more affordable option, there will be single- and double-disc versions of 25 Years available in the coming weeks.