The Summer That Sting Set Himself Free

A vivid memory has kicked off a few days of music nostalgia. It's 1985 and I'm driving home from the only job in my life that gave me any working-class cred, a summer gig pulling up and replacing carpets at apartment complexes across East Dallas. My thumbs are healing from cuts because I'm too inept to use an X-Acto knife properly, which my boss Eric predicted would happen on day one and considers quite hilarious.

The DJ on KEGL makes a big deal out of playing for the first time the first song from Sting's first solo album. The Police were the biggest band in the world when they hit pause the previous year and Sting undertook a solo career. The new album The Dream of the Blue Turtles has been portrayed as a huge creative risk and "If You Love Somebody Set Them Free" is the first chance to hear whether he pulled it off.

As a huge fan of "King of Pain" and the rest of The Police album Synchronicity, I wasn't sure I liked the new song. But it was inescapable on radio that summer and I eventually came around to the view that it is one of Sting's best.

I bought the album again and have been looping it on WinAMP for days. The Dream of the Blue Turtles holds together, with "Love Somebody," "Fortress Around Your Heart" and "Love is the Seventh Wave" all still fantastic. The more overtly political stuff like "Russians" didn't age as well, with Sting overenunciating the lyrics like he's afraid you'll miss that he rhymed "precedent" with "president" and "biology" with "ideology".

There's a 97-minute documentary on YouTube called Bring On The Night about forming a band and making this album. It shows Sting developing musical camaraderie with some great Black American jazz musicians, including Branford Marsalis and Kenny Kirkland, at a historic French chateau before they debut their work at the Theatre Mogador in Paris.

Sting is pleasant enough in the film but too emotionally reserved to be good drama, even when director Michael Apted has the crew clamber into the delivery room during the birth of his son Jake. His manager Miles Copeland, the brother of Police bandmate Stewart, is a hothead who would've been at home in This is Spinal Tap.

The most entertaining figure is the 24-year-old Marsalis with his peach fuzz mustache and righteous determination not to chase stardom. He gives one of the all-time great quotes to explain why he isn't nervous about whether the album will fail:

If I was Sting I'd be nervous but I'm not Sting. ... I am a jazz musician. I know what it's like to play some stuff that nobody wants to hear.

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