Sting returns to the landscape of his past
, 11 April 2014
This review is from: The Last Ship (Super Deluxe) (MP3 Download)
The last ship is Sting's 11th studio album and first album of original songs since 2003's Sacred love. The album is a collection of songs written for a play of the same name which is due to debut on Broadway. Sting may have hit a 10 year songwriting drought but as he puts in the booklet "I was far from idle". Instead Sting released Songs from the Labrynth in 2006; a collection of songs by John Dowland that Sting painstakingly learnt to play on the lute along with lutenist Edin Karamazov. In 2009 he released If on a winter's night... which was a collection of winter songs spanning centuries, including a couple of reworked versions of his own. In 2010 he released Symphonicities - an album of Sting songs, including some of his greatest hits, reimagined for symphonic arrangement. It was a creative step and worked well. As well as this he did expansive touring and kept his hand in music.
The last time Sting suffered a songwriting lapse was after his parents died and he chose to face the fears and the pain in his own way by writing about his childhood and the ships which he had grown up watching being built and sailing away, never to return. This spawned the album The soul cages, which he says is "the least loved, least understood of all my recorded efforts". Sting put himself into the character of Billy who seems to lose his father in a couple of songs in that album. This album follows suit because instead of writing about himself he has disguised himself behind a cast of characters. As he has said he reveals a lot more of himself than what he intended to do and you can sense that in a few of the songs.
Sting worked with a number of musicians/singers from the north on this album including Kathryn and Peter Tickell, Julian Sutton, Jimmy Nail, Brain Johnston, the Wilson family and the Unthank sisters. They help to give the album a real traditional northern feel. As a huge fan of Sting and a collector of his music I chose to purchase the Super deluxe edition (exclusive to Amazon) which features 8 extra tracks on disc 2.
The last ship is 1 of the best and creatively taking inspiration from the bible, tells of Jesus just after being resurrected, and how his only goal is to get to the ship before it's launched! Dead man's boots is the most autobiographical of all with the son expected to walk to the shipyard in his father's shoes and follow his path. This was something which Sting tried so hard to avoid and instead moved far from the community he grew up in and the industry of his hometown. Sting gets really irate in the song at the end proclaiming "I'm nothing like you... ye'll die before ye see me in your dead man's boots", which reflects the animosity between himself and his own father, who didn't approve of Sting's ambitions to be a musician. And yet is a cool track with a swinging rhythm that has a bit of a country feel to it. "And yet I'm back" he sings - back to the place of his childhood and the industrial landscape. August winds is a quiet, melancholy track which wouldn't have been out of place on If on a winters night... . Language of birds talks of the 'old man' and makes references to the Island of souls and the soul cage - evidence of Sting's return back to that part of his life and mind. A practical arrangement is another of the best with an older man asking for this younger, widowed woman to take him in and love him. Although it sounds quite desperate it's the depth, desire to be loved and the honesty which really pulls at the heartstrings. The night the pugilist... is pretty upbeat with this lad talking of how he was a fighter but has to learn ' skills more refined' to win a girl. "I was fifteen years old and I'd never been kissed" he states - tragic! Ballad of the great Eastern is another of my favourites, telling the story of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's famous ship from 1859, with a powerful story, powerful sound and a moving, sad ending. What have we got is a Newcastle gang song with Jimmy Nail doing harmonies with Sting as well as his own parts. I love her but she loves someone else - something Sting has said makes a great song, that love triangle. It's probably the most dull track on the album, referencing A practical arrangement. So to speak features Becky Unthank and is about Father O' Brian's suffering with cancer using a number of similes and metaphors. The last ship (reprise) is a welcome return using different lyrics in the verses to continue the story of this dream ship.
Disc 2 is a must if you want to get the complete project feel. Shipyard is a certain highlight with Jimmy Nail at the helm. It also features Brain Johnston and Jo Lawry who each do impressively in their character's roles. It's not the same moon is a bit too mellow and unexciting. Hadaway is a fun track which brings back the gang feel with multiple vocals in the chorus, with Sting telling his story in the verses. Jock the singing welder I'm undecided on. It's OK. I like the reference to Eddie Cochran even if it's been spelt wrongly in the booklet! Sky hooks and tartan paint is another of the best with Johnston telling his story of his first day at the shipyard and the jokes played on him. It's got a sing-along chorus and a great sound. Peggy's song is a strong performance from Becky Unthank about her husband's demise. Show some respect is another community track with an upbeat sound. Lawry's duet in Practical arrangement gives a fuller story to 1 of the best songs.
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