Sacred Love

Sting has been so famous for so long and done so much — the Police, the rain forest, the tantric sex (or was it?), the luxury-car commercial — he has become easy to undervalue as purely a musician. The radiant Sacred Love is a vivid and frequently gorgeous reminder that Gordon Sumner is first and foremost a talented singer-songwriter. Sting clearly studied at the hyperintelligent, musically ambitious school of Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell, but he has consistently infused his postgraduate work with something his own: a wide-open global consciousness combined with a cool British reserve.

Sacred Love, the follow-up to 1999's Brand New Day, finds Sting in a soulful mood. "Send Your Love" pulsates like some twenty-first-century take on classic Stevie Wonder or Marvin Gaye, with a taste of "Desert Rose" for extra flavor. The gospel-tinged love song "Whenever I Say Your Name" finds Sting trading lines effectively with the Queen of Hip-hop Soul, Mary J. Blige. Sting and co-producer Kipper have smartly stripped back the polished wall of sound that has sometimes swamped Sting's solo work. The characteristically literate "This War" rocks as convincingly as anything Sting has done since back when Stewart Copeland was keeping his time. In spots — such as the sleekly trance-y "Never Coming Home" — Sacred samples some of the strengths that made the Police so arresting in the first place. Sting seems like a man focused on the future but drawing more freely upon his past with heart and soul. Sacred or profane, that's hard not to love.