'Tales' speak for silent Sting

February 25, 1994|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

There's a song at the end of Sting's album "Ten Summoner's Tales" called "Nothing 'Bout Me," in which the singer laughs at those armchair psychiatrists who presume that by reading all his interviews and sifting through his lyric sheets that they have some understanding of who he really is.

"Check my records, check my facts/Check if I paid my income tax," he sings, mockingly. "Pore over everything in my C.V./But you'll still know nothing 'bout me."

"It doesn't really suit my purpose for the world to know what I'm really like," the singer later told Rolling Stone. "Whatever they've got is fine by me, so I'm not going to go on 'Oprah Winfrey.' "

Keeping with that tight-lipped policy, Sting gave few interviews upon the release of "Ten Summoner's Tales" and has declined to chat with the press at all during his current tour.

Granted, it's not as if he needs the publicity. "Ten Summoner's Tales" is his most successful solo album to date, with sales currently at 2 million and counting. Even better, he's been nominated in six categories for this year's Grammy Awards, and it's almost guaranteed that a win in any of the big categories will push his album further up the charts.

But the funniest thing about "Nothing 'Bout Me," says Playboy rock critic Victor Garbarini, is that it sits at the end of the most revealing album of Sting's career.

Garbarini, who is currently finishing a biography of the singer, discussed the album with Sting early last year. "I said, 'There is more of you -- the real you, all of your strengths and weaknesses -- in this album than in any album you've ever done,' " he recalls. "It's like a giant Rorschach test, this album. The characters in a lot of the songs are actually much more him than the characters in a lot of his other songs.

"When I pointed this out to him, he started laughing. He said, 'You know, I've begun to realize that is absolutely true.' Yet nobody has picked up on that, because not that many people know him that well."

Garbarini is one of the few who does. He began writing about Sting while editor of Musician magazine in the early '80s and even helped Sting audition musicians for his first solo album, "The Dream of the Blue Turtles."

One of the big differences in the feel of this album, Garbarini says, is that Sting is enjoying his home life as husband and father. "For anybody who knows him, the first thing he does when you go to see him now is take you to see his youngest, his infant daughter, and talk about his kids," he says.

"Also, over the last couple of albums, he's been coming off grief," Garbarini adds, noting that Sting lost both parents within about a year's time. "I mean, 'Soul Cages' was this long piece mostly for the bereaved that he put out for his own cathartic purposes -- although I know Eric Clapton was very moved by it, and many other people as well."

Trouble is, Sting's sense of grief wasn't really that well communicated to the public, particularly in this country. "The American way of coming off grief is to pour your heart out on the cover of People magazine, and everybody feels sorry for you," says Garbarini. "The English tend to bottle it up inside, and that's what he did. So everybody thought he's just pompous and arrogant."

So Sting decided to try and present more of his sense of humor in "Ten Summoner's Tales." One aspect of that effort was to fill the album with musical jokes and droll wordplay (the title, for example, alludes both to Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" and the fact that Sting's last name is Sumner).

More important to Sting, though, was maintaining a sense of immediacy in the music, to rely on instinct more than intellect. "He set himself a deadline," says Garbarini. "He only allowed himself eight weeks to complete the entire album.

"He said, 'Look what happened with Joseph Heller. The guy comes out with a great book, "Catch-22," and then it took him forever to come out with the next book.' In other words, you become such a perfectionist that you lose all your spontaneity.

"He said, 'I'm really afraid that if I sit here and tinker with this record, I won't be able to stop tinkering with it until I kill it. I need to put something out, at this stage in my development, where I just toss it out. Do it in eight weeks, and don't worry about it.' "

And that, Garbarini believes, is one of the reasons "Ten Summoner's Tales" is Sting's most lighthearted album to date. "It is less didactic and brittle than his last couple albums, in the sense that the only thing he could rely on was his intuition and his instincts," he says. "He's intellectual enough that there are ideas swirling around in there, but he let it flow, rather than worrying, which tends to stifle some of his best work."

Sting

When: Tonight at 8

Where: Patriot Center, George Mason University

Tickets: Sold out

Call: (410) 481-7328

You are summoned

Sting's "Ten Summoner's Tales" is the singer's most successful album to date. To get a taste of why it has sold more than 2 million copies in the last year, call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County call 268-7736; 836-5028 in Harford County; 848-0338 in Carroll County. Using a touch-tone telephone, punch in the four digit code 6163 after you hear the greeting.

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