Sting- The Last Ship
Where the hell do I start with this album? It stirred a passion inside me for new/old/every kind of music and for that I am unreservedly thankful, I thought that was it for me music wise just spinning all my old tunes until I was an old man.
When I used to write blogs I’d write as if the artist was reading, an open letter to them if you will. However, Sting aint gonna be reading my blog which means I shall cut out any sycophantic rantings of how brilliant a piece of work it is as I’m sure he has people employed to tell him that.
I got lucky with this album in so many ways. There’s little chance I would have heard this album had it not been for a chance live recording of him performing the album in New York that was broadcast on the BBC and I couldn’t stop thinking about the music I heard that night for weeks, nor listening to it.
The Wallsend Dockyards, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. The decade isn’t implicit but likely to be the late 50’s or early 60’s. This is the street Sting grew up on and this the iconic image at the end of the road…
The Last Ship.
It is a poignant tale of duality that of Jesus and a shipyard worker and their respective lovers. The music is not as traditional as the rest of the album it is more a nod to the evolution of an artist’s ability that was showcased so perfectly in “Songs from the Labyrinth” and “If on a winters night”.
Dead Man’s Boots is one of the most simple yet bravest songs. Discussions between the protagonist and his father, who encourages his son to follow in his working class footsteps and not only to reject them but to pass up the opportunity to eulogise on what is mostly appreciated as an honest lifestyle even though he wouldn’t believe his own words, is brave.
Suffice to say fans of Sting’s body of work weren’t particularly appreciative of the fact his first original album in a decade was a traditional concept album and not a collection of unreleased Police rarities or whatever it is they wanted. The third track on the album may go a little way to placating them.
And yet is a masterpiece of creative writing. As a poem it is perfect-
“This town this stain on the sunrise
Disguised in the mist this morning
It’s 8am, the seagull shouts a sailor’s warning.”
On a personal note, I would give anything to start work at 8am. This stanza coupled with the plucked bass, soft drums and not to mention the perfect vocal delivery. “There’s nothing round here that the wide world lacks and yet, you’re back“. Remember that in the bones of these songs is a story and there’s not a line in this album that isn’t working towards that end.
Ideally I would miss a few tracks in this review for brevity but the construction is such it may not be possible, every single track on this album has occupied its own space in my head for days at some point.
August winds is a cold and misty experience, naked and calm musically while full and emotionally decedent. While it’s still awful weather down here in the south west I’m going to take this album and listen to it on the dock in the early morning mist and this song will be an unforgettable part of that.
“Be easy of speaking the Language of Birds“, as far as wording a sentence goes that is as good as it gets. A light, rhythmic clattering of percussion throughout driving the song and story that harks back to his earlier “Soul Cage” album that was dedicated to his late father and while I don’t know too much of their relationship the themes are universal and brutally virtuous.
What follows are perhaps my two least listened to tracks. Practical Arrangement because it’s a bit raw, not musically or lyrically but in that we’re all getting older and without bringing up our mortality without good reason, even if you’re in a perfect relationship there is a possibility that something could happen that will result in your being alone when you’re getting to an age where it’s difficult to do anything about it. I’m half that but it still scares me to death. This is the story of the compromise a man may be willing to make just so he doesn’t spend his days alone. I’m getting chills even thinking about this, let’s move on.
I barely even noticed The Night The Pugilist Learned How To Dance the first time round, it’s like the Beatles’ Rocky Racoon or Klaatu’s Bodsworth Ruddlesby III in terms of how an isolated story can fit in with an otherwise linear structure though there are many better fitting examples within this album, this one is more dare I say, out of place. It’s a nice piece; it paints a good picture, descriptive imagery and sporting metaphor further developing a character by focusing on a simpler time. I feel this serves as a break between emotional rounds because there’s a fresh dose of passion on its way.
The previous song I would imagine, closes the first half of the show and the next opens the second. During the course of this album we are enlightened as to the meaning behind “the writing on the wall“, “the language of birds” and here a biographical account of engineering revolutionary Isambard Kingdom Brunel in a dark, haunting and morbidly emphatic account of the building of the SS Great Eastern. You needn’t know anything at all about the subject matter to get the feel of this, I’ve listened to it plenty of times but wouldn’t say I know anything more about the process but that doesn’t stop this song prodding at a certain chamber or your soul.
One thing I should probably mention is that one of the characters in the actual play is portrayed by Jimmy Nail. You know the one. He’s seen as the quintessential geordie by many and personally chosen by Sting so, who are we to argue. This is the song in which the ensemble start coming together as an important dynamic in the story, as it is the sense of community. Rousing, this is probably the most ‘musical’ number here.
You can imagine that a song called “I Love Her But She Loves Someone Else” is going to be a fairly maudlin offering. It sets the tone for the resignation of the finale of the quite beautiful So to speak and brings things full circle as we come to the reprise of the title track with some poignant alternative lyrics and arrangement with a powerful ending.
The super deluxe edition of the album features some more tracks which I’m not sure where they fit into the show but also have no idea why they were left off the album as a couple of them are truly magnificent.
Shipyard introduces gaelic influences and strings and covers some minor characters in lighter detail, it’s a curtailed version of that in the musical but gives a good feel of the communal resonance of the show. Skyhooks and tartan paint & Jock the singing welder are another couple of storytelling interludes, they’re just a bit of fun really, light relief in what is otherwise an emotionally heavy journey. Show Some Respect is one of the standout tracks of the entire album, a gorgeous rhyming scheme setting the scene for the story as well as the ensemble nature of the production.
It’s all perfect really.