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The Soul Cages

Sting - The Soul Cages ©1991 A&M
1. Island Of Souls
2. All This Time
3. Mad About You
4. Jerimiah Blues (Part 1)
5. Why Should I Cry For You
6. Saint Agnes And The Burning Train
7. The Wild Wild Sea
8. The Soul Cages
9. When The Angels Fall

Easily my favorite release of Sting's solo career, The Soul Cages is a solid and surprisingly unified album, and a deeply visceral and subtly compelling one as well. Themes of life and death are explored with a maturity seldom found in the plethora of so-called "Adult Contemporary" (which basically amounts to pop rock marketed to the VH1 crowd) albums. As always, Gordon Summers (the man behind the Sting facade) heaps a good deal of subtle complexity into the framework of catchy, radio friendly songs. Odd times, jarring syncopation, virtuoso guest performances and polyrhythms all manage to find their way into the nooks and crannies of his relatively simple song structures. Of course, this is all true of any Sting album.

What really sets The Soul Cages apart from the rest is its unified atmosphere (always tinged with bittersweet sentiment and melancholic drifting) and a sense of moving towards closure. With songs intimately tied together with threads of loss and neuroses, the whole of the album seems conceptual in its approach, but never to the point of actually becoming something so gimmicky as a Concept Album. As expected, the album is bathed in clean tone guitar harmonies and ultra smooth percussion. Sting's voice is more subdued than usual, buried in more subtle sentiments- regret, repressed longing, and ambiguous bereavement. Lyrically the album was inspired by the death of Summer's father, and he well expresses his own sense of loss in the best way possible - through metaphor.

Many have accused Sting of overt pretension and needless pomp. The accusations are typical of the polished mainstream critics' "give us straight pop, or forget it" attitude towards music. There is nothing particularly pompous about The Soul Cages; the album is subdued nearly to the point of minimalism - quietly and slightly disconcerting, every note used sparingly and crucial to the overall songs. The album works in negatives, lyrically about death and closure and musically occupying a space of disquieting minimalism (at least for Sting), where what you don't hear is at least as important as what you do. Certainly a high point in the ongoing Sting saga, The Soul Cages is the rarest of pleasures: a timeless pop record.

Review by James Slone

Review date: 08/2000

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