THE BRIDGE (Universal)


Sting’s boyish voice was, like the catchy tunes, reggae beats, restrained guitar and effusive drumming, a hallmark of The Police, and that youthfulness has never quite deserted him. Now 70 – an age when most voices deepen, darken, grow huskier, become wobblier or all four – Sting still sounds like he’s just embarking on a career. How does he do that?

The Bridge has him bundling up his established interests in pop, R&B, folk and a dash of jazz – which could also be described as treading musical water. Lyrically, meanwhile, the lockdown has seen him create contemplative characters often weighing up choices, with the bridge of the title being the ineradicable link between us all. Primarily playing bass, Sting is surrounded by a classy band including guitarist Dominic Miller, keyboards player Martin Kierszenbaum and drummers Manu Katche and Josh Freese.

Top photo: Eric Ryan.

After the surging pop-rock of Rushing Water, the breezy If It’s Love likens falling in love to falling sick, while The Book of Numbers is more haunting, and wouldn’t have been out of place on The Dream of the Blue Turtles. Even better is Loving You, with Maya Jane Coles (who shares the composing credit) creating the soundscape for a song about jealousy and infidelity. Harmony Road, penned from the perspective of someone keen to escape the wrong side of the tracks, is leavened with a glorious little soprano sax solo from Branford Marsalis.

For Her Love exemplifies Sting’s prettiest songwriting, and then there are three folksy ballads: The Hills on the Border, Captain Bateman (about a jailer’s daughter visiting a captive naval officer) and Waters of Tyne. The Bells of St Thomas has his double bass teamed with Katche’s brushes and the merest sighs from Miller’s guitars, all lilting on a beautifully-crafted morning-after song, the lyrics touching upon a Rubens painting and the fruits of sin. The understated gem of a title track has him delving into his voice’s lower reaches, and Captain Bateman’s Basement is huge fun: a jazzier Captain Bateman, with Sting singing wordlessly in tandem with his bass, and the brilliant Katche stretching out a little. Finally, and surprisingly, comes a charming cover of Sitting on the Dock of the Bay. If excessive earnestness has sometimes compromised Sting, it’s shrugged aside here by an artist who still sounds in his prime.