Daily Mail

Daily Mail - Friday September 19th 2003 - page 53

It's Friday! Music
How Sting became the king of 'bling'

Written By: Adrian Thrills

STING: Sacred Love (A&M)
Verdict: Sting stays ahead of the field. 4 out of 5 stars

ELVIS COSTELLO: North (Deutsche Grammophon)
Verdict: Heavy-hearted but heavy-handed. 2 out of 5 stars

BLONDIE: The Curse Of Blondie (Epic)
Verdict: Debbie goes for former glories. 2 out of 5 stars

WHEN Elvis Costello, Blondie and The Police were enjoying their first hits in 1978, the smart money would not have been on the latter's frontman, Sting, making the best music a quarter of a century later.

While Costello and Blondie were the epitome of the late Seventies 'new-wave' cool, The Police - thanks partly to Sting's laughable peroxide hair - were always among the black sheep of the post-punk generation.

But now, with Blondie striving to recreate former glories and Costello amusing himself on the musical fringes, it is Sting who is the most relevant of the trio.

Just why the singer is hipper now than he was 25 years ago is hard to fathom. He is a fine songwriter and fronts a formidable new band. But these factors hardly set him apart. What he has earned over the years, however, is unexpected credibility within the urban dance set. Puff Daddy, Craig David and the Sugababes have all appropriated his songs.

And, earlier this year, when I asked garage-pop star Daniel Bedingfield who he would most like to collaborate with, the answer was not Dr Dre or So Solid Crew, but ... you've guessed it. So, it's official: Sting is bling. Not that Sacred Love is a dance record. Far from it.

But on both this album and 1999's Brand New Day, Sting and his band have perfected a new musical signature - a kind of pop Esperanto which combines Latin influences, Arabic sounds and good old British melody, it is especially evident on the current single Send Your Love and Never Coming Home.

Two guest cameos are also noteworthy: Mary J. Blige smoulders marvellously on the sexy duet Whenever I Say Your Name; and Anoushka Shankar's sitar adds an oriental edge on The Book Of My Life.

Despite his reputation as the king of coffee-table pop, this is hardly dinner-party music - a brooding sense of unease pervades much of the album. But Send Your Love and the title track offer a bright foil to the record's more disconcerting moments. reiterating that Sacred Love is the work of an artist at the top of his game.

ELVIS COSTELLO is another skillful operator who has enjoyed a long career thanks to some dazzling twists and turns. But, after going back to his rock roots on last year's spirited When I Was Cruel, he has leapt into the jazz world once again with North, a crooned collection of lounge ballads which merely confirms that he has neither the voice of Tony Bennett nor the classical songcraft of Cole Porter.

A song cycle that loosely traces the breakdown of his marriage to former Pogues member Cait O'Riordan and his subsequent romance with jazz singer Diana Krall, the album makes too many demands on Costello's limited vocal range. It is painful to hear him combining shrill pitch and high power on When It Sings.

But there are moments of magic, too. Pianist Steve Nieve adds poignancy to You Turned To Me while the delightful Still reunites Elvis with the Brodsky Quartet.

One might have expected the album's later songs to be more playful, but sadly this is not the case: Can You Be True is as ponderous as the heart-break ballads which open the collection.

BLONDIE'S return - with original members Deborah Harry, Chris Stein, Clem Burke and Jimmy Destri all aboard - is another let-down. Too much of The Curse Of Blondie, out October 6, finds the New Yorkers revisiting the past. Current single Good Boys is a disco rampage in the style of Heart Of Glass, while the mildly suggestive Undone contains heavy echoes of Union City Blue.

And while the jazzily constructed Desire Brings Me Back and the eerie, ambient Magic (Asadoya Yunta) at least find the group attempting something fresh, Harry's vocals generally suffer from too much studio trickery and, on Shakedown, her inclination to rap rather than sing.

Those hoping for a dose of Harry nostalgia are advised to give The Curse Of Blondie a miss and invest instead in tickets for the band's forthcoming UK tour, which opens at the Liverpool Academy in November.

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