Picks and Pans Review: The Soul Cages

updated 02/11/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/11/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

Sting

It's time once again to play the musical version of What's My Line? Our guest today: the always mercurial Sting. The big question: how to classify the new bent of his first album in three years.

Is it rock? No, too soft-toned and languorous. Pop? No, too overstuffed and subtle. The former singer for the Police has even dropped the jazz trappings that marked his earlier solo career.

Stumped? So are we.

This is just an educated guess, but with songs like "Island of Souls" and "When the Angels Fall," with their fluffy string arrangements, minor-key chord progressions and portentous lyrics, der Stingel seems to be furnishing the dreamy sound track to some imaginary Bertolt Brecht drama.

Although its second side is a washout, the album docs contain one radio-accessible track, "All This Time," a catchy song marred somewhat by Manu Katché's emphatic, metronomic drumming. There are also some fetching melodies ("Mad About You" and "Why Should I Cry for You"), but mannered, pompous arrangements mask their potential beauty.

So Sting refuses to compromise to commercial considerations. That artistic integrity deserves applause. But the territory being staked out by this refugee from stardom—Moody, Ersatz Show Tune charts, anyone?—is so stylistically remote that there may not be many hands clapping. (A&M)

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