We first met Sting, all of us, circa late 1978 with “Roxanne,” the story of a call girl the narrator was trying to rescue from her vocation. Roxanne, who could walk the street for money, she didn’t care if it was wrong or right. “Roxanne” was the first captivating fictional character in a long line of them now extending over 40 years in songs by Gordon Matthew Sumner.
Along the way, Sting wrote a poignant memoir, “Broken Music,” and a Broadway musical about his life growing up in Newcastle called “The Last Ship.”
What sustains all those songs though is that they are not just love songs, or musings on fame. Unlike the songwriters of today, Sting constructed plots and stories, characters with names and emotions and aspirations. It’s why we go back to them over and over. From Roxanne to the King of Pain to the romantics in those fields of gold, Sting paints an aural picture in every song and draws us in.
So, too, in his beautiful new layered album, “The Bridge.” He’s smart: the first three or four tracks are the singles, all very catchy, especially “If It’s Love,” which is deceptive the way “Every Breath You Take” was, but hidden depths. Listen to it a couple of times. It’s top 40 with a bite.
I’ve already expressed my love for “Rushing Water,” which kicks off the album. Also a “hit” in the old sense that has a haunting undercurrent:
Three metric tonnes of pressure
This is the sum of all my fears
Something I just can’t measure
“Rushing Water” ties directly to the title track, “The Bridge,” the sneaky elegy for the songs that come in between. There are plenty of Roxanne like characters, from “Captain Bateman” (which has disarming harmonics) and the people who long to leave the violence on “Harmony Road.” “The Bridge” album is a collection of short stories.
There’s actually a whole movie in “The Bells of St. Thomas” with the main character waking up in Antwerp in the bed of a rich woman who thinks he’s dead. (This song deserves a Grammy and an Oscar.)
Or if I was led
But I know it’s a Sunday
For the bells in my head
And now the fields are all but drowned, and we climb up to the ridge
Some will seek the higher ground
Some of us the bridge
A friend of mine in music publishing who has nothing to do with Sting said to me today, “He’s done something very unusual with this album, very different and important.” We take our rock superstars for granted a lot because we’ve already had the hits, the legacy.