Sting gets Back to Bass in Abu Dhabi
The year was 1984. Michael Jackson’s historic album Thriller had cast its magic spell in every nook and corner of the globe, not least at the Grammys where it almost clinched a clean sweep of the most important gongs. Almost!
Although it bagged a record-breaking eight Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year and Record of the Year, Jackson was denied the Song of the Year award despite two very strong nominations: Billie Jean and Beat It. And the Grammy went to ….guess who? Sting of The Police for Every Breath You Take.
The track came from Synchronicity, the band’s fifth and most successful album, which also won them the Best Rock Group Grammy.
The Police by then had become a super successful band and were at the zenith of their popularity. However, no amount of fame and fortune could hold the trio together as egos, rather strong egos, collided endlessly.
The band simply disintegrated and by 1985 Sting had set out on a solo career.
“Everything you thought would make you happy was given to you – and then it did not make you happy. It’s a wonderful lesson, to learn where real happiness comes from. I escaped that band…,” Sting later told Sunday Times when asked about the break-up.
Way back in 1968, rock’s first supergroup Cream too – also a trio – had dissolved following constant ego conflicts between members – Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce, all legends. If Clapton walked away from the shadow of Cream to emerge as a highly acclaimed solo artist in his later years, Sting too hasn’t been short of laurels in his solo pursuit.
When a frontman of an extremely popular band decides to go it alone, the challenges are huge, be they in terms of commercial expectations or creative fulfilment. In fact not many have been able to emulate the success they were used to or make similar musical impact. Robert Plant, arguably the greatest rock vocalist, could go nowhere close to the Led Zeppelin stratosphere when he turned solo. Paul Rodgers, though still making his presence felt, has hardly achieved anything bigger than what he already had with Bad Company. As solo artists, Peter Gabriel of Genesis, John Fogerty of Credence Clearwater Revival and even Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam haven’t surpassed the glory of the bands fronted by them. The successful few include Ozzy Osbourne (Black Sabbath), Rod Stewart (Faces, Jeff Beck Group), Phil Collins (Genesis), Eric Clapton…. and Sting.
Between his first studio solo album, The Dream of the Blue Turtles, in 1985 and his most recent and tenth, Symphonicities in 2010, Sting scored a slew of global hits, won nine Grammys and 16 nominations (The Police had won six).
Today the 61-year-old artist is an institution by himself and a far bigger personality than an ex-Policeman. That’s a stinging fact no one can refute.
But if Sting’s achievements are to be truly appreciated, one must take a look at the wide spectrum of artists he has collaborated with, because this is what sets him apart even from his select peers.
Without taking anything away from the lesser-known musicians who have worked with him, the list of big-name artists he is associated with is simply staggering – from jazz greats Miles Davis and Frank Zappa to rock icons Mark Knopfler and Phil Collins to blues legend Eric Clapton, to queen of rock and roll Tina Turner, to Bruce Springsteen, Bob Geldof, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor ….to hip hop star Mary J. Blige.
Marriage of styles
How can one forget Sting’s opening line – I want my MTV -- in Dire Straits’ anthemic track Money for Nothing? The 1985 chart-topping song in fact marked the first of several collaborations Sting would later have in his post-Police chapter.
And these collaborations spanned a diverse range of genres and musical traditions. Not limiting himself to the comfort zones of rock, jazz and pop, he ventured out to embrace raï of the Middle East, fado of Portuguese origin and even Indian classical music.
On his 1999 album Brand New Day he teamed up with Algerian raï singer Cheb Mami on Desert Rose which became a massive international hit. The track’s video featuring Sting travelling through a desert in a Jaguar S-Type and ending up performing in a Las Vegas nightclub with Mami was equally well received.
Then came his collaboration with Mary J. Blige, Whenever I Say Your Name, on his 2003 album Sacred Love – the duet was awarded the Grammy for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals in 2004. The album contained two more significant joint works: Send Your Love with Spanish flamenco composer and virtuoso guitarist Vicente Amigo, and The Book Of My Life featuring India’s sitar maestro Anoushka Shankar.
This  was also the year of the Athens Summer Olympics and its official music album, Unity, showcased another significant collaboration in Sting’s career – A Thousand Years, which featured Portugal’s fado exponent Mariza.
“Sting stands out as a very mainstream example of the blending of musical styles that sound very organic,” says Shankar whose 2007 album, Breathing Under Water, contains a sublime track called Sea Dreamer with Sting on vocals.
Looking at his rich repertoire of collaborations, it’s hard to recall any other rock icon who has traversed a similar musical curve or experimented with more styles than Sting.
If that is not enough to him put in a different league, consider his movie career ( he has at least 10 feature films under his belt); his well documented involvement in the human rights movement; his founding of the Rainforest Foundation Fund to help save rain forests and protect the rights of the indigenous people in Brazil and you will begin to realise who exactly you are listening to when he performs in Yas Arena this evening.
As he touches down in the UAE as part of his Back on Bass tour, be ready to be treated to a string of hits spanning a career of more than three decades: Message in a Bottle, Roxanne, Shape of My Heart, If I Ever Lose My Faith in You, Englishman in New York, Fields of Gold, Desert Rose, and …..yes, Every Breath You Take.
By Sarat Singh