Exploring a multitude of concepts and themes, Sting bundles up his established interests in pop, R&B, folk and jazz while featuring his quintessential pop-rock sound on the contemplative remotely recorded new album The Bridge. Written in the year of pandemic, The Bridgehas found Sting puzzle over loss, separation, and isolation with the title referring to the ineradicable link between cultures, continents, and ideas. But rather than baring his soul in an ongoing tug-of-war between escapism and social consciousness, he is exploring the contrasts and contradictions between the two with epodic detections on love, infidelity, and growth.
The Bridge opens with the Police-reminiscing rock salvo “Rushing Water.” Though Sting’s multi-layered vocals sound somewhat distracting at first listen, along with notable muted guitar riffing and drumming, it manages to set the tone for the album and introduces us the concept. It is followed by the infectious indie-pop sounding lead single “If It’s Love.” Taking a different approach to a cliché love song, Sting sings about a love that he compares to an illness and draws a parallel between his romantic feelings and symptoms.
Sting’s long-time guitarist Dominic Miller makes a cameo on The Bridge as well, as the hauntingly beautiful “The Book of Numbers” reattaches the album to its rock soundscape. “The long search in the wilderness / For a place to lay my head,” he confesses his need for redemption and tells his story through the character he carefully portrays. The instrumentation is laid back and the vocals are devout but not short of commitment to the purpose. Folksy ballad “The Hills On The Border” adds more to Sting’s unanswered questions among all the suspicion that lies beneath his thoughts, and tells the story of a soldier who shares another man’s burden on a dead-end journey. Unlike “The Book of Numbers,” however, the track is rather lacking and his voice doesn’t really cut through like you think it would.
The slow-burner electronic ballad “Loving You” evokes Sting’s signature Fields of Gold era and tells the story of two lovers who had to split to due to lack of communication and faith. Questionable lyrics aside, the production is all about minimal beats and atmospheric synths, and it is certainly more enjoyable than the jangly guitars and whistling on “If It’s Love.” “Shape of My Heart”-ish “For Her Love” arises as one of the highlights despite the nonexistant chorus. Thankfully, Sting does his thing lyrically and exemplifies some of his prettiest songwriting as he poses a list of questions and closes the track with a fragile statement: “What would a man not do, what would a man not say for her love?”
The closing title track and “Captain Bateman” lean more toward the folk, however, they are less successful in spite of their sensitive instrumentation. Here, Sting is completely unvarnished. It is just him and finger-picked guitars with a fairly predictable folk-song structure that is not really going anywhere melodically. The sonics are later joined by synths and programmed drums, which could have been unwise on paper but turned out to be inoffensive.
For an artist with a history of being musically adventurous, Sting finds himself on a familiar ground on The Bridge as he did on its predecessor. The sense of overthinking matters that is present on the theme can also be seen on the instrumentation, especially during the album’s eclectic first half. But despite the promising start, the album fails to keep the modern sound and reverts to heavy, folky story-telling—which is not necessarilly something negative, but is simply not backed up by refreshing and satisfying melodies. While there might not be nothing particularly thrilling about the music, given his tendency for reinvention, maybe something more surprising and exhilataring lurks around the corner. But The Bridge ultimately feels like an anticlimax after years of waiting to see what would be the next step for Sting.