Happy 30th Anniversary to Sting’s second studio album …Nothing Like the Sun, originally released October 13, 1987.
Following on from the gargantuan success of The Police, Sting’s turn as solo artist proved just as potent with the release of 1985’s jazz-infused The Dream of the Blue Turtles. Showing his ability to draw influence from several styles of music whilst still making it sound authentic as opposed to co-opted, Sting set about writing and recording his sophomore effort, 1987’s …Nothing Like the Sun.
As a newly minted teen at the time, the music and artists I listened to often shaped my worldview. The global consciousness of albums such as U2’s The Joshua Tree, and Simple Minds’ Once Upon A Time along with artists’ support of organizations like Amnesty International broadened my concerns and motivated me to act in a way that only a righteous teen can.
So it was somewhat fitting that the release of …Nothing Like The Sun occurred during an overseas trip with my family. I can remember vividly buying the album on cassette, sliding it into my Walkman, pressing play and being greeted with an album that felt like a warm, organic global stew cooked up by one serious minded chef.
Written and recorded following Sting’s involvement with Amnesty International’s Conspiracy of Hope Tour, it was clear that being exposed to some of the unjust heartache during tour stops through Latin America not only opened Sting’s eyes to the issues of government oppression and the ravages of civil war, but also the music of the region. Coupled with this was Sting’s personal struggle dealing with the illness and ultimate loss of his mother that transpired in the lead up to and recording of the album.
Songs like album opener “The Lazarus Heart” meld these two themes perfectly, as he weaves world music inspired percussive elements with jazz fusion and laments mortality, singing “Birds on the roof of my mother’s house / No stones to chase them away / Birds on the roof of my mother’s house / Will sit on my roof someday.” The song grooves under the propulsion of famed session drummer Manu Katché and floats dreamlike with Branford Marsalis’ haunting saxophone melody as Sting confronts his own mortality, the loss of his mother, and what it means to be a parent.
On tracks like the somber yet hopeful “They Dance Alone,” which amplifies the plight of Chile’s Mothers of the Disappeared, the tender acoustic solace of “Fragile,” and the melancholy of “Sister Moon,” Sting takes on serious issues in a way that shines with an authentic concern elevating the material from being overly dour.
In fact the only upbeat songs on the set are the funk-pop of lead single “We’ll Be Together” and the throwaway shuffle retelling of Noah’s Ark, “Rock Steady.” While the former shines all these years later, the latter is best soon forgotten.
The brooding and reflective “Be Still My Beating Heart” enchants with its ebb and flow arrangement and features the ethereal soundscapes of The Police’s Andy Summers on guitar. Coupled with the evergreen jazz of “Englishman in New York” and its humorous take on being a stranger in a strange land, they form the centerpiece of the album’s first disc and play to the strengths of the ensemble musicians.
Elsewhere, the percussively dense and lyrically insightful “History Will Teach Us Nothing” and the enchanting hypnotic “Straight to My Heart” keep the album’s lifeblood pumping with vigor. Another standout is Sting’s cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” ably assisted by jazz pioneer Gil Evans, which takes on an ethereal quality and aptly soars to the heavens. Album closer “The Secret Marriage” feels like the tacked-on song to an overly long credit sequence and as a result the album suffers a bit from its inclusion.
Whilst its energy might fizzle a little in the final quarter (salvaged by “Little Wing”), …Nothing Like the Sun remains an ever-enjoyable listen that places you in a reflective mood and allows you space to crawl inside the music. Surprisingly successful for what it is—for all intents and purposes a decidedly non-commercial sounding album—it remains one of Sting’s finest and most cohesive moments on record, well worth dusting off and giving another spin.