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‘57th & 9th’ review: Sting almost turns a corner

"57th & 9th" has a more rock-oriented balance of Sting songs. Credit: A&M Records

STING

“57th & 9th”

GRADE B

BOTTOM LINE Some fine songs, some clunkers, and it’s nice to hear Sting rock again.

Somebody should drag 65-year-old Sting, with his stress lines and bloodshot eye, “half-blind and deaf as any post,” into a studio with a rock and roll band more often. For the most part on his first album since 2014’s mannered “The Last Ship,” the former Police frontman foregoes the woodwinds, plays down the big statements and mostly lets himself relax — the scratchy “Petrol Head,” with a fantastic Josh Freese drum-kit groove, a siren solo by guitarist Dominic Miller and boisterous backing by members of a San Antonio Tex-Mex band called Last Bandoleros, is Sting’s most punkish song in decades.

Fluteless, luteless and jazz-free, the first three songs express gloomy sentiments in cathartic ways. “I Can’t Stop Thinking About You” is a sturdy, Police-like rocker that might have been the album’s best song were it not for the cliché “this heart’s a lonely hunter”; “50,000,” which Sting has said he wrote the week Prince died, offsets low, talky verses on meaning and mortality with a killer Miller riff and a “Wrapped Around Your Finger”-like chorus; and “Down, Down, Down,” a midtempo rocker about drowning and sinking, takes nearly a minute to break the tension but is worth the wait.

Sting being Sting, “57th & 9th” detours into heavy-handed “Russians” territory — “One Fine Day” tries to be gently sarcastic in dealing with the climate-change crisis, but it’s too often clunky and simplistic, opening with “optimists say . . . ” and mourning the loss of three drowned penguins and a bear. Acoustic-guitar folk ballad “Heading South on the Great North Road” seems like an outtake from “The Last Ship,” but that makes the equally downbeat “Inshallah,” in which Sting sets his deep thoughts about European refugees to bongos and soft guitars, more effective. It’s too bad the man who wrote “Roxanne” and “So Lonely” couldn’t full-on rock for an entire album, but we take what we can get.

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