Named after the intersection he crossed every day to the recording studio, Sting’s new album 57th and 9th is his first rock album in 13 years. He probably shouldn’t have bothered.
Remember when Guns ‘n Roses was the go-to band for a musically immature generation? Remember when The Smiths epitomised a youth in revolt? 57th and 9th is a radio-friendly master-class in teenage angst: brooding, philosophical and overly-complicated lyrics sit precariously atop a grungy four-chord nightmare so deeply inoffensive it hurts. In some kind of sick twist of fate Sting has tried to combine the lyrical anguish of Morrissey with the powerful rock melodies of Slash and completely missed the point on both.
Were this album intended to be a concept album, with one song blending effortlessly into another, I would be impressed. But it isn’t a concept album. Sting just hasn’t varied beyond the same few chord progressions he is familiar with. This album is the musical equivalent of an adult wearing arm bands in the kids’ pool – pointless, shallow and, quite frankly, embarrassing. Sting seems afraid of anything but his comfort zone.
The album begins with I Can’t Stop Thinking About You, a song chosen for promotional early-release. When I heard it, I was hoping that it wasn’t a reflection of the album. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the best song. It’s so bland I can only assume that it took effort to make it so. Nothing can be this boring unintentionally. A slew of equally appalling songs followed what can only be described as a soft opening: 50,000 was written the week of Prince’s death and cashes in on the arbitrariness of life as Sting’s fellow socialite celebrities and musicians dropped like flies. Fearful that he would fall from the spotlight, Sting referenced the fact that he, too, shared a stage with these greats. The song Down, Down, Down, is equally depressing. “I’m drinking from this bitter cup / The only place that’s left is up / I could not fall no further than this / Down, down, down, down.” How deep, my heart almost bleeds for this internationally famous multi-millionaire.
Halfway through the album, Sting replaces his soulless wailing with a more reflective and thoughtful acoustic song, Heading South on the Great North Road. His voice has certainly matured – deeper, calmer, surer, it fills your ears with comfort and warmth. It’s a far cry from the shrill faux-Jamaican vocals of his youth. Importantly, his voice is no longer lost behind a wall of noise but stands at the forefront. Much like the rest of the album, however, it is weak and repetitive, a few interesting lines and riffs away from a half-decent song. Beyond this point there is nothing worth noting or, rather, nothing memorable to mention.
For an album tackling so many hard-hitting topics – from the philosophical meaning of life to the geopolitics of the Middle East – it couldn’t be limper if it tried. A yoga-pants-wearing musician living in New York, writing through the eyes of a soldier travelling to some foreign land, or a refugee in a country torn apart by war, comes across as nothing more than laughably artificial. 57th and 9th is certainly a valiant attempt at something meaningful, but it’s not the Sting we know and love. Sting is, to me, more known as the personality and the vocalist than he is the lyricist. His attempt is duly noted but, without a doubt, needs work.
By the end of the album I had grown oddly accustomed to its repetitive, same-y familiarity. I barely realised when one song ended and another began. But that summarises what the album is: background noise. Uninspired. Easy to listen to, if you’re not actually listening, but, ultimately, worth neither the time nor the money. It’s not the worst album I’ve ever heard, but it might be the lowest point in Sting’s career – including the private concerts for foreign dictators.