Sting has always prided himself as an artist constantly looking forward. But on his next album he looks back -- in order to bring his music forward.
My Songs, due out May 24, finds Sting revisiting 15 of his Police and solo favorites, revising and reimagining them to varying degrees - but in almost all cases updating sonics, dynamics and arrangements based on the way the songs have evolved for him over the years. "I'm constantly tinkering and I'm always wanting to make the songs as contemporary as they can possible be, because I think they are good songs," Sting tells Billboard. "Sometimes songs are identified by the technology they were recorded with - recording techniques, the sound of synthesizers or the drum sound. They all date a song, so we just want to re-contemporize the stuff."
The same, he adds, goes for his singing. "My voice has more interesting overtones than it did when I was 25," the singer explains. "It's a less pure sound, but I think it has this richness to it. The songs change very night when I sing them, and I'm always hearing something I haven't actually discovered there. It's discovery within that repetition, too."
My Songs, recorded in various locations, makes use of both existing and newly recorded tracks, with members of Sting's touring band (guitarist Dominic Miller and his son Rufus, drummer Josh Freese) and of the Last Bandoleros and Sting's manager Martin Kierszenbaum - who also produced tracks with Dave Aude and Jerry Fuentes - joining Sting on the latter.
The Police's "So Lonely," for instance, has a slightly twangier guitar tone and an end vamp that draws from live performances of the song both with the band and on his own. The orchestrations on "Desert Rose" are a bit more up front, while "Message in a Bottle" features an extended outro that builds to a powerful vocal crescendo, and "Walking on the Moon" ends with a more pronounced call-and-response arrangement. His refreshed take of "Shape of My Heart," meanwhile, is included as a nod to Juice WRLD's sampling it for his hit "Lucid Dreams." And of particular note is "If You Love Somebody Set Them Free," a bold, banging 4x4 take that makes the jazz-pop original sound like a timid puppy trying to keep up with a wolf pack.
The My Songs project was inspired by an invitation to perform "Brand New Day" - which Sting wrote for the millennium - in Times Square this past New Year's Eve. "It's a hopeful song about turning over a new leaf and starting again," Sting says, "so we did an updated version of that, again, taking off some filters and using a different bass drum sound, and it just sounded very contemporary and it ended up on Spotify, next to Ariana Grande. So I thought, 'Yeah, that works. Let's keep doing that.' So we worked on 'Desert Rose' and sent it to the record company and said, 'We think it's a hit again.' We're just having fun, which is good. If it wasn't fun, I couldn't do it."
Sting, who shared a Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album with Shaggy for their 44/876, will hit the road again with the rapper on May 19 for a short U.K. tour, then play five dates in the U.S. during May before launching a Sting: My Songs tour starting on May 28 in Paris. He also has a handful of additional U.S. dates slated for late summer. "This tour will be based on the album, of course," says Sting, who will be performing in his musical, The Last Ship, again early next year in Los Angeles. "I also want to bring in some tertiary songs that people haven't heard for awhile and change it up a bit," he says. "I don't want it to be a greatest hits tour. I will play the hits but I want people to be surprised by a choice or two." What Sting doesn't expect to do, however, is repeat the My Songs concept on a subsequent album.
"I'd like to make something totally new," Sting says. "I don't know what that is, what it sounds like or what it looks like. I just have to trust that the muse will appear. You know, I've written hundreds of songs, but I can't tell you how I should do it. I don't really know. I'm always happy when they materialize, but if I knew exactly where that button is that you press that suddenly makes that happen, then I'd keep pressing it. But, you know, it shifts all the time. You always think that the last song you wrote is the last song you'll ever write - which is probably a good way to think."
The track list for My Songs includes:
"Brand New Day"
"If You Love Somebody Set Them Free"
"Every Breath You Take"
"Can't Stand Losing You"
"Fields of Gold"
"Shape of My Heart"
"Message in a Bottle"
"Walking on the Moon"
"Englishman in New York"
"If I Ever Lose My Faith in You"
Deluxe Edition bonus tracks:
"Synchronicity II" (Live)
"Next To You" (Live)
"Spirits In The Material World" (Live)
"I Can't Stop Thinking About You" (Live) (Japan Exclusive)
"Desert Rose" (Extended Version) (France Exclusive)
(c) Billboard by Gary Graff