Sting – The Last Ship (2013)

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The shame of it, really, is that Sting’s still-resonant pop smarts are often subsumed on The Last Ship, his first proper album in a decade, by its High Concept beginnings as a theatrical production.

Rather than leveraging, as he did with such direct emotion on 1991’s The Soul Cages, the 1980s-era demise of Newcastle’s shipbuilding industry into a metaphor for some larger thing, Sting instead often hides away here inside of the characters he’s created. Sting even employs, and right from the start on this album’s epic opening title track, a snort-inducing working-class accent.

The fading days of the local Swan Hunter shipyard, which served as a backdrop for this future school teacher-turned-rocker’s own childhood, is rich with symbolism — not unlike the concurrent move away from family farming in the U.S., which likewise served as a wellspring for so many heartland singer-songwriters. In keeping, the lyric sheet thrums with specificity, and so does the musical palette here, as Sting moves with no small amount of grace between rough-hewn folk and howling sea shantys.

Yet, fully realized moments like the album’s lead track are quickly obscured elsewhere, as Sting employs a vocal presentation that resembles nothing so much as method acting. That might make for an easier transition, if and when The Last Ship — due September 24, 2013 from Interscope/A&M — arrives on a Broadway stage. But it makes for an alienating, unnecessarily distant experience as an album.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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