The Last Ship by Sting (Cherry Tree, A&M. 66 minutes)
Gordon Sumner, better known as Sting, was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, on October 2, 1951. He is best known for his singing career, both with the 1980s band The Police and as a solo artist. Sting is also a distinguished songwriter and actor, as well as an active philanthropist in causes from environmentalism to human rights.
Telling the Story in Music
Arguably, it’s been since 1999 since the venerated former frontman of The Police came out with a good solo album. But, with The Last Ship, Sting has joined the elite circle of 80’s musicians who have joined Broadway. Of course, Elton John is in the circle as well with his shows Lion King, Aida, and Billy Elliot as well as Bono with his Brodway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. I think The Last Ship will top both of these 80’s rocker’s attempts to have a great broadway musical, or at the very least, tie Elton John.
Sting’s new musical is based on his childhood in Wallsend in the Northeast Coast of England, and took him around a decade to compose and record. Wallsend has a history of shipbuilding, and is home to the Wingham Richardson Shipyard, which continued to operate until 2007. The premise of the musical is a town where Shipbuilding takes a hit, and how the people deal with the economic fallout. It’s a theme many can relate to, and Sting interweaves the theme throughout every song, telling the story incredibly well. Sting interweaves classic Celtic themes with accordions and fiddle, and the shipyard theme is present with a sea-shanty sound throughout.
Perhaps the most exciting number isn’t available on the normal CD release, but only the Deluxe. “Sky Hooks and Tartan Paint” is the tale of a young shipyard apprentice sent on a fools errand for non-existent items. Nail holes, sky hooks, tartan paint, and the like. It features Brian Johnson from AC/DC. Unfortunately, there are no easy links available, so you’ll just have to buy the album to listen to it.
On the normal offering, the track “The Night The Pugilist Learned How to Dance” harkens back to Sting’s Ten Summoner’s Tales, one of my favorite albums he’s done. It has a classic Sting vibe, with a French bistro influence throughout. The song tells the story of a man who learns how to dance despite his pugilistic nature.
“It’s a three-minute round and you’re back in yr corner,
You’re licking yr wounds just like little Jack Horner,
Don’t let your guard down try a jab with your right,
Or you’re losing on points by the end of the night,
Then a miracle happens, and everyone’s screaming,
You’re pinching yourself just in case you’re still dreaming,
You’ve taken the initiative, you’ve taken your chance,
It’s the night when this pugilist finally learned how to dance”
“Dead Man’s Boots” is a song about the tradition of being grandfathered into the ship-making profession, a valued job in the time. It’s a conversation between a father and his son, which turns south.
“These dead man’s boots know their way down the hill,
They can walk there themselves, and they probably will.
I’d plenty of choices, and plenty other routes,
And he’d never see me walking in these dead man’s boots.”
Lastly, the song “Practical Arrangement” is the song of a man who’s trying to find love, but doesn’t know how to do it right. He tries to find a practical arrangement with a young lady, seducing her with a simple life.
Sting’s biggest talent has always been, perhaps always will be, his ability to tell a story. This makes him incredibly well-suited to write a musical. I personally don’t like musicals all-too-often, because rarely do I find music suiting the story well in a well-fitting way. Sting’s musical, however is not only well written in regards to text, but it’s also well written in regards to melodic shape, content, and overall structure of the songs. The reason I believe this will be a hit is because I can listen to the CD alone, and still enjoy the songs without acting surrounding it. When listening to The Last Ship, you can discern the story of the entire musical without any text. Of course, the album is the songs that didn’t make it onto the musical. So, assuming the musical is well done, it will be even better than the album. With extras like Brian Johnson and The Unthanks, this album is a must-have.
Verdict: 4 out of 5