Sting’s phony Jamaican accent on the first three Police albums, morphing gradually over the final two less-satisfying releases into something more like the serious highbrow persona of his grandly successful solo career, is one of the great mysteries and paradoxes in rock. Why he thought it was okay to sing like that is the mystery. The paradox is that Mr. Sumner has always sounded more natural, more comfortable and more real in character than when “playing himself.”
The paradox gets loopy AF, as paradoxes are wont to do, on Sting’s strangely fine 2016 rock ‘n’ roll record 57th & 9th. This self-consciously rocking and modern record finds Sting as self-conscious, formal and stiffly deliberate and intentional as ever, playing the role of present-day Sting: a rock star in dotage, in reflection, really feeling the gulf between his public persona and his private self and understanding it as a resonant and troubling symptom of the culture of celebrity. This untenable identity that he bemoans is exactly what he bargained for back at the Crossroads, and he knows it.
It is no surprise at all that “Sting” is yet another ill-fitting persona for Sting to play, resulting in a diction and inflection that could only be explained as a terminal case of identity discomfort; what is a bit of a surprise is how effective and affecting these songs are – and this is coming from someone who pretended to like The Dream of the Blue Turtles for about a month when it was new and who was never moved by him again.
You need to accept – acquiesce to – Sting’s default pieties and pretensions. That’s just him. Get over it. Once you’ve done that, be prepared to be impressed both by the musical craftiness of these confessional songs, and ultimately, by their courageously awkward honesty. The ringleader of the daring and essential first three Police records needs no justification in my book, but it is a quiet thrill to see the guy getting himself into this kind of thematic trouble at this stage in his career.
Supporting 57th & 9th, Sting performs at 8 p.m. on Friday, September 1 at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. Reserved seat prices range from $75.50 to $197.50, and $48 for lawn seating. For tickets and more information, visit www.bethelwoodscenter.org. The Bethel Woods Center for the Arts is located at 200 Hurd Road in Bethel.