There are many, many artists it’s not cool to like. Phil Collins is probably the uncoolest of them all. However, he has some great songs – both solo and with Genesis, the latter especially. Who can argue with the brilliance of ‘Ssssudio’ or ‘Invisible Touch’? Another act it’s cool to hate/uncool to like is Sting. It’s somewhat credible to have a Police album or their Greatest Hits, but his solo material gets no love at all these days. However, this is the album that proves them all wrong. Symphonicities is a compilation album of some of Sting’s biggest known songs as well as a lot of his lesser known ones. What makes it special is the fact that it’s performed with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, adding an extra dimension to every one of his songs.
The record opens with ‘Next to You’, the ‘Great Balls of Fire’ aping opening track from the Police’s debut album Outlandos d’Amour. Amazingly, the song was never released as a single, and thus anyone with just a previous compilation in their collection will not have heard it. It’s one of the best unsung Police songs, and here it’s given a fuller feel with the orchestra backing, making it enormously more danceable. You’d forget that about Sting, but his songs are damn catchy, and impossible not to dance to, or at least sway back and forth.
Of the big hits, ‘Englishman in New York’ from Sting’s …Nothing Like the Sun, ‘Every Little Thing She Does is Magic’ from the Police’s Ghost in the Machine, and ‘Roxanne’ from Outlandos d’Amour are the crowd pleasers. You’ll know all the words and find yourself grooving along without realising. There’s now a vibrancy and urgency to ‘Englishman…’ and the extra nuances added on to the chorus, and particularly the beautiful outro make this song so much better than the original recording. ‘Every Little Thing…’ has a soundtrack feel, and in this version, it becomes a song of soaring beauty. ‘Roxanne’ is the one Police song everybody knows, so I think it was perhaps too obvious to put it on here. A lesser known song probably would have been more successful.
This album is extremely successful at bringing out the best in some of Sting’s lesser known tracks. Many people would know ‘I Hung My Head’ from Johnny Cash’s American IV: The Man Comes Around. It was originally on the 1996 Sting album Mercury Falling. Whereas the original and Cash’s versions are solemn tunes, the more intense nature of the orchestra makes it feel as if Sting is rejoicing after being acquitted by God.
‘When We Dance’ was a single that only appeared on Fields of Gold: The Best of Sting 1984-1994 – the compilation I have myself, but many people may have a different compilation or never have heard this tune. It’s a gorgeous duet, and a perfect wedding dance number, especially in this fuller version. ‘The End of the Game’ is another highlight, taken from his much criticised Brand New Day album. However, a prelude was only included on some versions, so this may be the first time that even hardcore Sting fans hear the song. It’s a slower, more downbeat tune, but when it reaches its crescendo is simply wonderful.
The whole album is a wonderful listen. It makes Sting’s own songs sound infinitely better, as well as breathing new life into overplayed Police classics. I’m not usually one for promoting compilations, but this is different. It’s a reinvention of Sting’s finest hits and unsung songs, and no doubt, it’s the compilation of the year. A massive success.