Chattering Mind

Well, I’ve purchased Sting’s newly-released CD of melancholy mandrigals by Renaissance composer John Dowland (1563-1626). It should arrive from Amazon any day. The collection is super lute-y, I hear, and capable of transporting you to 16th-century England in a flash! Amazon reviews are profoundly mixed, however, and some early buyers are “sending out an S.O.S.” So I’m wondering: Is this the vanity project of a pretentious rocker, or the noble stretch of a heart that’s in full flower?

Writes listener/reviewer Christina Roden: “For listeners accustomed to hearing material of this period interpreted by rigorously trained early music stylists, especially countertenors and the like, Sting’s sometimes tight-jawed, chest-heavy vocals may seem amateurish. It’s undeniable that in four-part harmonies, the singer, tightly overdubbed, comes across like a combination of the Swingle Singers and Queen (meaning Freddy Mercury and crew, NOT the first Elizabeth). But it’s important to remember that music of this period was routinely heard as a casual diversion in private homes, even more often than at Court…With this in mind, the overall effect is of a candle-lit, postprandial entertainment in the home of an English gentleman. Muttered readings from Dowland’s letters and brief snippets of sampled birdsong aside, it is a courageous effort, displaying heartfelt admiration for the composer and a considerable degree of earnest charm.”

Sting confided this to Oliver Condy in a BBC Music Magazine interview: “For me it’s all about development–becoming a better musician, a better singer, a better songwriter… a better person. And you improve by putting yourself at risk creatively or entering a milieu that may seem uncomfortable at first. If you think you know about arranging, listen to Ravel. If you think you’re a composer, then listen to Bach and be humbled; but know you can get better. I didn’t think the disc was worth releasing until the last minute. I was thinking ‘I can’t see this becoming a record, and me taking this risk’.”

What do you think? You could wait until Amazon puts some clips online. Let me know if you get yours before I get mine. (And also, Sting will be on “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” next week–apparently plugging the album!)

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