"I don't give a fuck about rock & roll," Sting declared unequivocally in 1987. There was, he complained, "no new fuel in rock music." Instead, he said, musicians should be looking outside of rock to African, jazz and even classical music: "Anything! Anything will do."
... Nothing Like the Sun, released shortly after that tirade, was everything but the kitchen sink, a double-album banquet of seductive Hispanic and Brazilian rhythms, exultant reggae, big-band jazz and melancholy Euroballadry featuring an all-star, genre-busting crew: Branford Marsalis, Mark Knopfler, Eric Clapton, Rubén Blades and Andy Summers.
Sting's sources ranged from German composer Hans Eisler and Jimi Hendrix (a jazz reading of "Little Wing") to a traditional Chilean courting dance in "They Dance Alone," a haunting tribute to the families of Chile's "disappeared," opponents of the government who are believed to have been murdered. In his lyrics, Sting juxtaposed meditations on death and rebirth — his mother died during the making of the record — with observations on religion, history and, in "Englishman in New York," spiritual and cultural exile.
Literally worlds away from the artful simplicity of his hits with the Police and even his jazz-fusion tangents on The Dream of the Blue Turtles, his first solo excursion, ... Nothing Like the Sun is as much a vivid reflection of the mushrooming exploratory fervor among many of Sting's middle-aged pop peers, such as Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads and Paul Simon, as it is an expression of Sting's disgust with the state of pop. Ironically, the eleven original songs on the album were the product not of extensive musical field trips but of five months' concentrated writing in New York City in the winter and early spring of 1987.
"I had already started writing songs before that back in London," he told Rolling Stone during a Brazilian tour the following year. "But I brought those fragments over. And I had this kind of monkish life. I lived on my own. I cooked my own food. I went to the gym every day. I took piano lessons. The phone was off the hook. And I worked usually from twelve midday to very late at night." The strict regimen, though, combined with the emotional weight of his mother's recent passing, made it hard for him to be objective about the results. "'They Dance Alone' was a song I played to people as a demo in my apartment," he says. "People were visibly moved. I was too bound up in it to make judgments."
Sting's record company initially questioned the wisdom of his musical expeditions on ... Nothing Like the Sun. "It wasn't simple enough or directed toward the charts," says Sting. "I said, 'Why underestimate the record-buying public?'" In fact, the album was a commercial success, spawning a hit single in the jaunty "We Will Be Together."
"It confirms my belief that sophistication, or intended sophistication, is not the kiss of death," he said proudly. "As long as you're grounded somewhere in common sense."