Since his 1985 solo debut, The Dream of the Blue Turtles. Sting has emerged as the king of cocktail music with a smooth blend of jazz, world beat and art-pop that goes down like the perfect martini. The ex-Policeman, though, successfully shakes things up on his latest, which finds him at 52 hitting the dance floor on tracks like the club-ready first single, "Send Your Love." Beginning with just flamenco guitar (courtesy of Spain's Vicente Amigo) and castanets, the song builds into a swirling mix of atmospheric electronica beats, Middle Eastern textures and a funky bass part that shows off Sting's prowess on the instrument. One of the best singles of the year, it sounds unlike anything Sting has ever done before. Almost as good is "Never Coming Home," which sets its lyric about a woman breaking away from a relationship against a backdrop of throbbing techno, soft guitar accents and jazz piano.
One can't help but wish that Sting had done more of this kind of dance fusion; it could have made Sacred Love truly great. The rest of the disc, however, offers few surprises, which won't be such a bad thing to fans of 1999's Brand New Day and much of his previous solo work. Cuts like the "Fields of Gold"-reminiscent "Dead Man's Rope," one of several songs with spiritual lyrics ("I've been walking away from Jesus's love"), are still rich in pop craftsmanship. The only real clunker is "Whenever I Say Your Name," Sting's duet with Mary J. Blige. The R&B-ish ballad is a case of two great voices that just don't match.