Bass guitar god and Rock music staple Sting, AKA Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, has dabbled in Blues, Jazz, Spanish Flamenco, and even Broadway over the years. In the late ‘70s, he took the world by storm with the Police, lasting into the mid 1980s and continuing to reunite once every blue moon.
Towards the end of the band, he sought to go his own way with the release of The Dream of the Blue Turtles in 1985, and created buzz with his first single, “Fortress Around Your Heart.” Success continued with … Nothing Like the Sun (1986), then he embraced a Spanish guitar/’90s Rock influence with Ten Summoner’s Tales (1993), took a millennial turn in Brand New Day (1999), and went on to offer up so many other classics, including a Broadway composed The Last Ship in 2013. With his most recent release of My Songs in 2019, Sting fans were, and always will be, dying to hear more.
With such an expansive catalogue to go through, Sting compiled his best duets for his album of the same title, which was released on Cherrytree Records on Friday, March 19, 2021. Duets highlights his ability as an artist to be open-minded and work with people of all genres and ages; from every country possible, from France to Africa. Sting is a renaissance man of music and Duets is here to remind us of that.
Opener and classic track, “Little Something,” is a jazzy collab with New Jersey native Melody Gardot. A head bopper that gives off sultry, acoustic vibes, it draws some Flamenco influence, as well. Then “It’s Probably Me,” from Ten Summoner’s Tales, displays the work of guitar god Eric Clapton. Showing Sting’s versatility, “Stolen Car” features French-Canadian enchantress Mylene Farmer and takes more of a Pop spin, creating an underground club atmosphere, musically speaking.
As we already know, Sting took a beautiful new musical direction on “Brand New Day,” the song and the album, much in thanks to Algerian singer Cheb Mam. With Middle Eastern style singing and stunning instrumentation, he creates a sensual feel along with an easily danceable beat. And it comes from a truly standout album in his career! Next, in another stylistic turn of events, he duets with British R&B crooner Craig David, intertwining his acoustic hook for “Shape of My Heart” to make David’s soul-searching single “Rise and Fall.” The result places a totally different spin on his music vibrancy.
The incomparable Mary J. Blige gives her soul on “Whenever I Say Your Name,” from 2013’s Sacred Love, and it’s worth praise as lofty as its background vocals. Another artist who needs no introduction, Shaggy gives off his signature Jamaican flare on “Don’t Make Me Wait,” from 2018’s 44/876. A jam of a love plea, it contrasts beautifully with the sadness and obsession of “Reste,” which features French-Congolese Hip-Hop artist GIMS and shows that Sting can keep up with the times while still providing a great hook.
A flashback to Sting’s early career, his collaboration with Annie Lennox and their song “We’ll Be Together,” from his debut, creates a funky beat and uses Lennox’s voice to create a beautifully drawn contrast while sounding like a good time. Then, “L’Amour C’est Comme Un Jour” (Love is Like a Day) with French-Armenian singer/songwriter/diplomat Charles Aznavour takes more of a classic approach with Sting singing in delicate French for the first time on the record. Meanwhile, “My Funny Valentine,” with Pianist Herbie Hancock, could easily be heard at any Jazz club, and yet Sting chooses to put his own spin on the classic without taking too much away from its original beauty. All of this before Julio Iglesias takes his own approach to Sting’s Spanish guitar classic “Fragile,” and Sting takes to it with subtlety, allowing Iglesias to have the spotlight.
In recent collaborations, Brooklyn Pop/Hip Hop artist GASHI collaborates on the single “Mama,” again proving that Sting is still being heard by newer generations in unexpected ways, and with danceable beats to boot. In fact, just for the Duets record he released a single called “September” with Italian Singer-Songwriter Zucchero. It is a song that harkens back to Sting’s musical career in the 1990s, having simple, beautifully delicate instrumentation.
He continues this lovely minimalism with “Practical Arrangement,” originally from The Last Ship. Featuring Australian Singer-Songwriter Jo Lawry, the Broadway-ready track intertwines a Jazz influence with Sting’s beautiful falsetto. But he takes a soulful turn when he is joined by R&B great Sam Moore and percussion great Sheila E on “None of Us Are Free.” Using Blues’ lyrical patterns, it relays a feel of great inner grit and turmoil. Then, closing track “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” with Jazz great Chris Botti, sees the pair of artists playing calmly and cooperatively with one another. A Jazz fan’s dream, it also features some Pop elements, as well as orchestration, creating a well-rounded presentation.
In short, Sting has proven countless times that he is a musician’s musician when it comes to collaborations. Celebrating countless styles, he has never stuck within a particular schtick, working with current artists, as we have seen with GIMS and GASHI, and even Steve Aoki, who is shamefully not on this album. Due to this eclecticism Duets has something for everyone, young and old. Coming from someone of the millennial generation, he can still be truly appreciated for his open-mindedness and he has the catalogue to back that up. His forays into Jazz, Hip Hop, and Classical, among many other genres, prove his talent and versatility. For this, Cryptic Rock gives Sting’s Duets 4 out of 5 stars.