Stealing the Music Confession: Sting admits he loves to 'stretch' music, and his new album, "Mercury Falling," is full of clever mischief.

March 10, 1996|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

NEW YORK -- All rock stars have their kinky side, but few would ever admit to the sort of unusual interests Sting pursues.

No, it's nothing to do with underage girls or Turkish geese. Sting, it seems, prefers to fool around with music, perverting pop idioms at every opportunity. For him, there's no better fun than teasing a country tune, undermining a waltz or leading a samba astray.

"Well, this is part of my perversion," he says with a devilish grin. "I love the idea of music forms being elastic. You can stretch them, stretch them and stretch them until they become something different entirely, and yet you can't see where this folk song becomes a weird bossa nova."

Needless to say, Sting isn't exactly shy about indulging this taste. His new album, "Mercury Falling," which arrives in record stores Tuesday, is full of mischief and musical miscegenation. There's "I Hung My Head," which would seem a classic cowboy tune except for the fact that it lopes along in a very un-western 9/8 rhythm; "Valparaiso," which starts off like a Celtic lament but ends like a Latin-jazz waltz; and "La belle dame sans regrets," a classic French ballad that somehow can't seem to decide whether it's a bossa nova or a salsa tune.

It's all wickedly clever, and quite obviously the most fun Sting has had in a while.

"That really amuses me as a musician," he says, as he sits in his spacious New York apartment. "Because I really don't see music in these sort of Balkanized blocs. 'Rock and roll.' 'Soul music.' It's so didactic. For me, music is this sort of common language, and it's all available to steal from. I think musicians should admit that we're the greatest thieves on earth. We steal from everything."

Sting has profited quite handsomely from such plunder, too. Between the millions of albums sold when he was a member of the Police and the piles of platinum titles he's amassed since going out on his own, the 46-year-old singer has become as rich as he is famous.

His place in Manhattan, for instance, is wonderfully opulent -- a two-story flat overlooking Central Park with a marble staircase, a small studio and a sitting room large enough to dwarf his concert grand -- but it's a pied-a-terre. His true home is in England, a country estate large enough to leave plenty of room for his wife, children and horses.

Yet as easy as it would be for Sting to live the rock-star life, he takes a fairly casual attitude toward his celebrity. He dresses simply (a black ski sweater, black leather jeans and white, button-down shirt), and doesn't keep an entourage to insulate him from the realities of Manhattan life.

"I still walk the streets," he says. "People recognize me, but probably more than any other country in the world, they seem to accept who you are as a celebrity, and actually enjoy the fact that you are on the street as a celebrity. And that's better than any other country in the world.

"So I actually quite enjoy being famous in America. It's not unpleasant at all. People are generally polite, and when they're not" -- he laughs -- "I'm perfectly prepared to be rude."

Still, though he's anything but rude at the moment, it's clear he'd rather talk about music than his own celebrity. Clearly, some of that has to do with his desire to promote his new album -- Sting is nothing if not focused -- and the fact that Rock Star Sting has relatively little to do with the actual man who writes these songs and makes these albums.

Only the name's the same

"There's somebody trying to write a book about me at the moment," he says. "A sleazy book about my secret life or something. It's taken from the tabloids, and it's going to be bizarre, because it's not me. It's just a creation, you know?

"I can't really control it anyway, so I don't really concern myself with it. But I try to maintain a sense of humor, and say, 'Well, we share the same name, but actually, that's not me.'

"My solace comes from being known and loved by about six people, really," he adds. "Six or seven people. And that's enough to carry on. I mean, that's what anybody has. Why you should be known and loved by millions of people -- well, that's just impossible, for a start. And you don't need it. You don't need to be loved by any more than that small group of people, of family or close friends."

Maybe that's why Sting's recent work seems less concerned with crowd-pleasing singles than with the subtler pleasures of resonance and allusion. Unlike the typical Top-40 hit, Sting's songs rarely reveal all on a single hearing; there are always additional layers of lyrical content and musical ingenuity lurking beneath the surface.

That, he thinks, is what people like about his music. "The enjoyment for the listener, I'm sure, must be to pull aside the cobwebs and find something underneath," he says. "And maybe something beneath that.

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