With the release of The Last Ship, many fans may wonder if Sting the pop singer has returned. The answer comes quickly with a resounding “No, but I haven’t forgotten all I learned while I wore that hat.” Since Sacred Love, Sting has worn many hats—but ever since then, he has strayed far from the mantle of Sting the pop singer. Whether it was the cerebral, brooding holiday album he released with If on a Winter’s Night or the Dowland reworkings assisted by Edin Karamazov, his body of work was varied and interesting indeed, if not as accessible as previously.
It's an open secret that Sting's interest in songwriting waned after 2003's Sacred Love, an undistinguished collection of mature pop that passed with barely a ripple despite winning a Grammy for its Mary J. Blige duet "Whenever I Say Your Name. " Sting spent the next decade wandering -- writing classical albums for lute, recording the frostiest Christmas album in memory, rearranging his old hits for symphony, then finally, inevitably, reuniting the Police -- before finding inspiration within the confines of a musical.
The Last Ship is Sting's first album of new material he wrote himself in a decade, and it continues his effort to find fresh ways to connect with his audience. It's a collection of songs for an original play about the destruction of the shipping industry in Newcastle, the English port city where he grew up, as well as a meditation on mortality, community and fatherhood. The ballad "I Love Her but She Loves Someone Else" evokes the erotic despair that he has always found seductive, and even with orchestration the arrangements are spare and haunting.
As Sting recently noted in this paper, his success gives him licence to make more or less any music he wants to, however uncommercial. The Last Ship, his first album of new material in 10 years, is one of those idiosyncratic projects: a companion album to a self-written play about the decline of the Swan Hunter shipyard in Wallsend. Initially, it's alienating; the songs are half rustic folk, half sea shanty, and Sting sporadically drops his voice an octave and breaks into a working-class Newcastle accent.
When you achieve a certain stature in music, it comes with full permission to indulge. Sting’s The Last Ship, his first album of original material in 10 years, is a curious indulgence, focusing on the decline and fall of the shipbuilding industry in North East England. However worthy, it’s a highly limited theme, one somewhat surprisingly doubling as a stage play of the same name destined for Broadway.
For his first record of original music in a decade, Sting continues his restless musical journey by delving into musical theater. Many of the songs here will appear in the upcoming Broadway collaboration about a crosscurrent of stories amid the demise of the shipbuilding industry in a small English town. Eloquent and stately, the tracks bring traditional English folk music to broader theatrical conventions.