Sting must be fresh out of ideas. Having recorded an album of 16th century songs for lute (2006's Songs From The Labyrinth), reformed The Police, and covered carols from the 1300s (last year's If On A Winter's Night), he's now resorting to the ultimate stopgap: reworking his back catalogue — again. Bring On The Night brought jazz textures to his early work, All This Time unplugged the hits, and Symphonicities features a little help from a full orchestra.
Despite making a daily practice of playing selections from J.S. Bach on his guitar, he's left the orchestrations to the experts, instructing arrangers like Rob Mathes to "have fun, don't slavishly follow the existing structure of the songs and most important, challenge the orchestra rhythmically".
He reasons: "I didn't want them to be merely providing an interesting backdrop while sawing whole notes behind a pop ballad… The orchestra would have to be far more than just window dressing for a vanity project."
Somebody screwed up. With the exception of the nimble Next To You - a flurry of strings - and the majestic We Work The Black Seam, the 60-something classically trained musicians add very little to the Sting oeuvre. At least that means there's none of the overbearing pomp and schmaltz typical of symphonic rock. But - unlike the orchestral Scratch My Back, which has Peter Gabriel completely deconstructing songs - Symphonicities simply doesn't show enough (re)imagination.
Perhaps the problem is that the performances are still anchored by a traditional four-piece band: Sting's long-time guitarist Dominic Miller, jazz bassist Ira Coleman, and the featured percussionist on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, David Cossin. They're certainly talented, but the quartet still play the songs we know in the way that we've come to know them.
And perhaps the other problem is those very songs chosen by Sting and conductor/producer Mathes. The biggest change to the already symphonic Englishman In New York is a clarinet playing the familiar sax line, the always lush When We Dance gains female backing vocals, Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic drops the original's calypso vibe, and Roxanne merely overemphasises the lounge style its taken on during Sting's solo shows.
Whatever the reason, the orchestra are just window dressing for a vanity project.