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Show some respect!
on 18 November 2013
Anyone who approaches this album wanting something similar to The Police or Sting at his most mainstream should probably stop looking at this item now and go and replay their favourite albums instead. However, if you are open minded for something different from Sting (and let's face it, the last few albums have all been "something different" and I would forgive anyone for losing patience with Mr. Sumner) and have a liking for either folk or theatrical music, then you may find much to please you here. "The Last Ship", for me, is the best piece of work that Sting has released for a couple of decades. It is very much a concept album, based on the Tyneside shipbuilding industry and the characters who populated it. Musically, it's generally quite a gentle album, but exceedingly rich with melody, interesting arrangements and instrumentation. Lyrically, it's outstanding; each track is musical storytelling at its finest and it's intelligent enough to give the listener food for thought yet accessible enough to recognise and empathise with the songs that tug at the emotional heartstrings for differing reasons.
Nearly everything on "The Last Ship" is superb and there are only one or two tracks which took me a few listens to be convinced of their charm. Nearly everything else was almost instantly likeable and my love for these eclectic collection of songs grew each time I listened to the album. There are many songs here that I would count amongst my personal favourites. "Practical Arrangement", for example, is probably the best song that Sting has written for many years. The powerfully emotive title track is superb (as well as the reprise), "August Winds" has a beautiful subtlety and "Ballad Of The Great Eastern" is folk storytelling par excellence. "I Love Her But She Loves Someone Else" is absolutely gorgeous and Sting is in particularly fine voice on this track, but it has to be said that he gives an absolutely excellent performance on each very different track. The special guests (Jimmy Nail, Brian Johnson, Jo Lawry and Becky Unthank) also work very well indeed on their respective songs and give the album the characteristic of having a rather versatile supporting cast of players.
I admit that this isn't going to be for everybody and it's the kind of work that polarises the listener - it's probably going to be either a love or hate reaction when you hear it. For me, it's a very genuine love for this heartfelt tribute to Sting's native North-East of England. I bought the deluxe version of the album which, for a little extra money, gets you an additional CD with eight more tracks, some of them different versions of songs from the album featuring other artists, some of them completely new songs; all of them are excellent (well, "Jock The Singing Welder" perhaps isn't quite as good as the others, maybe the only "ouch" moment on both discs) and are well worth the higher price you pay for the second disc. All-in-all, this is one of the most remarkable albums I have heard all year and I admire Sting greatly for having the courage to write and release something as different and unconventional as this; even if this isn't quite to your taste, it is difficult to ignore the creativity and artistry behind this project. It could have easily backfired and given his critics further ammunition, but I'm of the opinion that this is actually one of the best things he has ever put his name to and is certainly my favourite Sting album since the underrated "Mercury Falling" from way back in 1996.