10 Years Ago: Sting Breaks Out the Lute on ‘Songs From the Labyrinth’
Over the course of a long and distinguished career, which saw him finding monumental success as both as a solo artist and frontman for post-punk hitmakers the Police, Sting has never shied away from eclectic musical explorations. But, even so, the singer took most of his fans down a truly unfamiliar path with his 2006 album, Songs From the Labyrinth, which found him interpreting the works of Renaissance-era composer John Dowland (1563 – 1626) in collaboration with Bosnian lute virtuoso Edin Karamazov.
Songs From the Labyrinth was a bona fide collection of classical music. To his credit, Sting made that clear to unsuspecting consumers by having it released on classical music imprint Deutsche Grammophon rather than his longtime home of A&M Records.
And fans who ultimately decided to take the leap, were presented with the subdued and spartan sounds of Sting, crooning quietly along to Karamazov's lute, or else accompanied by medieval choirs -- all of which, needless to say, was a long, long way from past hits like "Roxanne," "Message in a Bottle" and "Every Breath You Take."
But Sting wasn't content to leave all the playing to Karamazov; he actually applied himself to playing the lute himself, telling The Lute Society that "It was a nightmare at first, for a guitarist, being a completely different technique, different fingering and tuning. It's been a hugely challenging and entertaining journey, and I'm well on the way."
When asked by the same site about Dowland's poetry, since Sting also recited some of of it unaccompanied by any instrumentation, the singer said, "I studied poetry; I used to be an English teacher. So I have an affinity with the poetry; Dowland was writing at the same time as Shakespeare and the richness of language is not daunting to me."
The album did prove daunting, or rather, uninteresting to listeners at large, though, becoming Sting's first solo album since 1986's live Bring on the Night to fall short of the U.K. Top 10, and it topped out at No. 25 in the U.S., which was still good enough for No. 1 on the Classical Chart.
That feat in itself was justification enough for Sting's daring musical detour on Songs From the Labyrinth. But fans who embarked on this detour with him were no doubt swept away, back in time, by the singer's familiar, unmistakable voice, as well as Karamanov's evocative lute.
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