Amid all the hoo-ha (Scott has links) surrounding Sting’s new album of songs by the apparently obscure John Dowland (England’s greatest songwriter? Nope, never heard of him), ANABlog has a couple of taster tracks to listen to. And you know what – they’re alright. Not great, but well-intentioned stabs at some great music that everyone deserves to hear. No surprise there, then. But what did surprise me in my reaction is that I wish that Sting’s voice actually sounded more like Sting; unlike Jessica Duchen, for example, I sort of wish there were more breathy pop articulations – those are what makes Sting’s voice distinctive after all – rather than a poor impression of plummy Early Music Specialist Type A (I agree with Jessica though that the twangy vowels are off-putting). I think Dowland’s songs are robust enough to take plenty of roughness to the edges, and it’s a pity that Sting didn’t push that a bit himself. That said, the close mic’ed production on ‘Can she excuse my wrongs’ is way off. I hear what you were trying (some punky energy, no?), but the song’s too busy already for it to work.
Update 1: Jonathan Bellman has a few more thoughts on Sting’s vowels, and hits the nail with this one: “Sting, to my ear, is giving the songs such a careful, kid-glove kind of treatment that his natural enunciation has gone into slow motion.”
Update 2: Pliable believes this is nothing more than a commercial move on Sting’s part; an argument I I take issue with on two counts – 1) who’s bothered? Sting’s a commercial recording artist (as, for that matter is everyone who has recorded Dowland for money); 2) Sting could have done plenty more commercial things with his brand name. (John Dowland, however – now there’s the sell-out. A pox on him.)
Update 3: Guthry Trojan has some interesting points – maybe a folk recording approach might have worked better? Also, he has a fine response to Pliable, above:
I think it might be more revealing if we were to ask who was responsible for bringing Sting’s “labour of love, labour of curiosity” to the notice of Deutsche Grammophon. This, I imagine, is where the commercial exploitation begins – and it exploits Sting as much as the rest of us. An aging rocker, living a super-real life, whose lasting fame is founded on fickle, transitory pop music, is easy prey for a culture monger like DG.