Today I found the article Sting’s ‘Labyrinth’: 16th Century Pop Music through a Renaissance music blog. Apparently, Sting made an album of John Dowland songs last year as a tribute to the Elizabethan composer.
The blog had linked to one of the songs in the album, and I was a bit disappointed upon hearing it. Like all the other songs in the album, it solely consisted of Sting’s voice and the lute (Dowland’s instrument), and I didn’t think that they complemented each other very well.
I went on iTunes music store, listened to previews of the songs, and read some of the reviews. There were two groups of people who wrote reviews: Sting fans and Dowland fans.
Most of the Sting fans gave the album five stars, because they loved Sting’s voice, and were pleased with the exotic lute music to which they weren’t accustomed.
People who had already listened to other Dowland recordings weren’t satisfied at all, and wrote that this isn’t how Dowland should be performed, and that Sting’s singing was very bad.
There was a third group of people who loved both Sting and Dowland, and thought that Sting did the music justice and also introduced Dowland to listeners who usually don’t listen that type of music.
I’m a Dowland fan, and not a Sting fan, and I personally didn’t love the recordings. But, I didn’t dislike them because Sting sings them in the pop style – in fact, I thought it was great that he interpreted them in his own style. What annoyed me was that the classical lute accompaniment didn’t mesh with the pop style at all. Sting’s singing and the lute part sound good separately, but they conflict when put together. Sting’s singing style crushes the delicate sound of the lute, in my opinion. It would have sounded better over electronic guitars.
I think that if Sting wanted to bring a more modern feel to the songs, he might have arranged the accompaniment for a pop band. In fact, I think Dowland’s pieces would sound awesome as rock songs or alternative music. Sting’s interpretation of Dowland songs still makes them sound like “old” music. I think Dowland would have found it appropriate to keep the melodies and harmonies of the songs intact, but have it performed with whatever instruments that are popular at the time.
Sting should have gone that extra step. Then I would have been happy. The CD looks pretty cool, actually, because Sting reads some excerpts from Dowland’s personal correspondences as well to paint a biographical portrait of him.
Listen to Sting’s version of “Can She Excuse My Wrongs.”