REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/25/2007
Here we have, ladies and gentlemen, the Two Faces of Sting.
Mercury Falling, the 1996 release from former Police frontman Sting, finds the enigmatic rock/jazz/pop/what-the-hell-is-he-doing-now bouncing back and forth between extremes like an poorly-medicated bipolar at a trampoline competition. He goes from serious and portentous to the closest he's been to relaxed since the Police went by the wayside; he dabbles in sea shanties and twangy country; in short, this CD is all over the map. Yet it's oddly infectious; this is the Sting CD I remember the best, and indeed I'm not even listening to it now while I write the review. I know what it sounds like.
And to be honest, what it sounds like is a roller-coaster ride, the musical equivalent of the list of pros and cons you wrote in college to decide whether to keep dating someone. The production is elegant, clear, and textured, but that's a given on a Sting CD; to have poor sound quality would be some sort of offense against his personal Muse, who is apparently a neat freak – and that neatness dulls Mercury Falling at times. The CD is almost sterile in places; songs like “Valparaiso” and “I Hung My Head” lack the real pathos needed to make them work. (If you doubt that, compare the late great Johnny Cash's version of “I Hung My Head” to Sting's original. To paraphrase the immortal Otis Redding when speaking about Aretha Franklin's cover of “R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” that old man done stole Sting's song).
Of course, just when I want to make a sleeping generalization about manufactured and cerebral pop, Sting lays a whammy on us – several, in fact. “Hounds Of Winter” is, in my opinion, the greatest solo song Sting has ever done, nudging out “Fortress Around Your Heart” by a nose. Rich with imagery and chilling sound, “Hounds” is a dark tour de force. “You Still Touch Me” and “I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying” are brilliant, especially the twanging steel guitar on the latter. (Yes, I said steel guitar.) “All Four Seasons” is that rarity, a genuinely funny rock song that is not a parody – and it doesn't hurt at least for me that I have some personal reasons for really loving it. (What can I say; the song reminds me of someone I love.)
Mercury Falling just won't stand still. There are at least three different CDs here mashed into one like a multi-car pile up, and it's exhausting. But any CD with “Hounds of Winter” and “All Four Seasons” can't be all bad; in fact, it's pretty good – if not a little exhausting. If you want consistency, look elsewhere. If you're willing to pan for gold, this is a good place to start.