I've been waiting for years for Sting to release a Christmas album. Of course since it is Sting, you can't expect the traditional regurgitated "Holiday Classics" covers. I mean the man is a creative thinker who takes everything into his being and makes it his, traditional covers would bore the hell out of him. And to be honest, no matter what his voice does to me insides by way of stimulating my chakras, I'd be bored as hell and the CD would be tucked away into the holiday box rarely played ever again. I dreamt all last winter of the perfect Christmas album: his personality sculpting and redefining the classic "English" carol. With the experience of Labyrinth and the Arabic flavors in Sacred Love, I imagined something that would time and geographic lines. I had hoped for I Saw Three Ships and Gabriel's Message. In the first listen I found more than I hoped for. And, as expects he delivers the unexpected.
Thoughtful, personal and cognisant of the emotional range of the season, the lyrics are wrapped in both whimsy and sorrow, longing and fulfillment through iconic and fantastical elements. His voice gets richer with each album as does his interpretations of previously released material. Gabriel's Message is reworked to compliment the flavors in this collection. The Hounds of Winter evokes the hollow conditions of loneliness harnessed in its initial release without the flesh-ripping pain one experiences upon first realizing your abject single hood in the midst of this joyous holiday season. Campbell's soup for one seems less desolate with the knowledge that there are a hundred billion castaways also looking for a home.
My absolute favorite track is Soul Cake. It is a chant in the English tradition with the feel of an Celtic reel. A horn, Chris Botti's, plays God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen through the bridge. It helps that this is my all time, Never-get-sick-of-hearing it carol. Within the layers of this song, one begins to look for one of Sting's trademark tools... the self quote.
As I listen to this album in its entirety for the fourth time, I hear parts of the Soul Cages, Mercury Falling (outside of the obvious inclusion of that title track in this offering), Sacred Love and Nothing Like the Sun. Dreams of Blue Turtles and Bring On The Night wouldn't really be appropriate here, but their joy is represented in Soul Cake.
In all, the album feels like a warm blanket in front of a steady fire on a cold and dark night, tea time of the soul or not. I dare the north western Michigan gales to blow under starless skies this Winter. I am now prepared.