[Review] Sting: Nothing Like the Sun (1987)

Sting reprises his role as Hamlet with Branford Marsalis and Kenny Kirkland as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Kronomyth 3.0: Get your money for Nothing.

Sting’s third album, Nothing Like the Sun, is too intelligent to ignore. Also impossible to ignore is the fact that Sting looks increasingly like Fabio on the videos that accompanied this album. From Be Still My Beating Heart to An Englishman in New York to They Dance Alone to We’ll Be Together to Fragile, Sting’s hair grows longer, his longing stares grow deeper, and my desire to punch the man grows stronger.

Now, bearing in mind that Sting had recently lost both parents to cancer, you have to wonder what kind of awful person could have anything but sympathy for the man. The songs he wrote about his mother’s death (The Lazarus Heart) and, later, his father’s death (“All This Time”) are eloquent and heartachingly human. The same could be said for his divorce (“I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying”) and his affair (The Secret Marriage). In fact, the uglier his life gets, the prettier he seems. There’s probably a Dorian Gray story in there somewhere.

Nothing Like the Sun is erudite, occasionally sensual, equally at home in the shadows and the spotlight. It’s a brilliant album in many ways, but about as light as Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan. The album’s standout single, “We’ll Be Together,” is a tease; it’s the only time Sting sounds more like the black Prince than the black prince, Hamlet. Despite its dark overtones, Nothing Like the Sun rarely tries the same trick twice. Sting appears in a variety of settings, from reggae (History Will Teach Us Nothing) to Brecht (Sister Moon). He even pulls off a Jimi Hendrix song, Little Wing, which might be the prettiest version I’ve heard since Derek and the Dominos.

The backing band again prominently features Branford Marsalis and Kenny Kirkland, with a new rhythm section that includes French jazz percussionists Mino Cinélu and Manu Katché. They give the material a continental jazz flair that elevates the music to the beau monde of literate pazz and jop. You know, I’m sure there were people who wanted to punch Hamlet too, moping about with no regard for his own entitlement. But the suffering artist and melancholy prince are popular archetypes for a reason. We’re all prone to feel sorry for ourselves sometimes, but don’t feel sorry for Sting; he’s managed here to turn his brooding into art.

Original 2LP version

A1. The Lazarus Heart (4:34)
A2. Be Still My Beating Heart (5:32)
A3. Englishman in New York (4:25)
B1. History Will Teach Us Nothing (4:58)
B2. They Dance Alone (Gueca Solo) (7:16)
B3. Fragile (3:54)
C1. We’ll Be Together (4:52)
C2. Straight to My Heart (3:54)
C3. Rock Steady (4:27)
D1. Sister Moon (3:46)
D2. Little Wing (Jimi Hendrix) (5:04)
D3. The Secret Marriage (2:03)

All songs written and arranged by Sting unless noted.

CD reissue bonus track
13. Englishman in New York (video)

The Players

Sting (vocals, bass, guitar on B1/B3), Mino Cinélu (percussion, vocoder), Manu Katché (drums), Kenny Kirkland (keyboards), Branford Marsalis (saxophone) with Ruben Blades (Spanish on B2), Hiram Bullock (guitar on D2), Eric Clapton (guitar on B2), Kenwood Dennard (drums on D2), Mark Egan (bass on D2), Gil Evans & His Orchestra (D2), Reneé Gayer (backing vocals), Fareed Haque (guitar on B2), Ken Helman (piano on D3), Mark Knopfler (guitar on B2), Dollette McDonald (backing vocals), Andy Newmark (additional drums), Janice Pendarvis (backing vocals), Andy Summers (guitar on A1/A2), Vesta Williams (backing vocals). Produced by Neil Dorfsman and Sting except C1 produced by Bryan Loren and Sting; mixed by Neil Dorfsman and Hugh Padgham except C1 mixed by Paul McKenna.

The Pictures

Photographs by Brian Aris. Art direction and design by Richard Frankel.

The Plastic

Released on 2LP and compact disc on October 13, 1987 in the UK (A&M, AMA/CDA-6402), the US (A&M, SP-6402), Brazil (A&M, 396491-1), Colombia (A&M/Philips, 3964901), Japan (A&M, C35Y-3203), Korea (A&M, SP-6402), Mexico (A&M, LPR-73038/A2) and Venezuela (A&M/Sonographica, 50019-L) with lyrics booklet. The Spanish version released in Colombia, Mexico & Venezuela features bonus tracks in Spanish.

  1. Re-released on remastered compact disc in 1995 in the US (Mobile Fidelity, UDCD-546).
  2. Re-issued on compact disc in 1997 in China (Polygram, 393912-2).
  3. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc in 1998 in Korea (A&M, DA-8584) with bonus video.
  4. Re-released on remastered super-high material compact disc in 2008 in Japan (Universal, UICY-90744).

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