It's been ages since Sting even seemed to conceive of himself as a rock artist, which is why his straight-ahead new LP is so surprising: 57th & 9th is a no-lute zone. You'd have to go all the way back to "Born in the 50's," from the very first Police album, to hear him sing over guitars as rough as the ones on the lonely-horn-dog anthem "I Can't Stop Thinking About You" or the no-frills driving banger "Petrol Head."
The highlight "50,000" offers a clue to this newfound urgency; over guitarist Dominic Miller's dark chords, Sting pays tribute to Prince, recalling ecstatic stadium shows, then flashes to a bathroom-mirror vision of his own mortality: "These lines of stress, one bloodshot eye/The unhealthy pallor of a troubled ghost." Desperation also comes through on "One Fine Day," a delicate plea for climate sanity, and the Middle East-tinged refugee's prayer "Inshallah." Elsewhere, he offers a kind of travelogue through his own musical past, from the Chaucer-y balladry of "Heading South on the Great North Road" to "If You Can't Love Me," a mordantly Kafkaesque echo of the jazz rock Sting made in the Eighties. Even if the album gets more ponderous as his concerns deepen, it's nice to see the king of pain flex a little.