Sting review – still awesome, but doesn’t he just know it | Sting

Sting opens his set with Russians, a 1985 Cold War single he reworked and re-released to raise money for a Ukrainian charity. “I hardly played it for years, because I thought it was no longer relevant,” he sighs. “But, in light of recent events…”

Accompanied only by a Ukrainian cellist, Yaroslava Trofymchuk, the 70-year-old man dressed in black leather sings the refrain of the song and the serious central message: “Russians love their children too”. He warns us: “Remember, many brave Russians are protesting against this war.”

It might be cutesy, but Sting wins with its obvious sincerity and, above all, its haunting melody, taken in part from Prokofiev. It’s a powerful start to the veteran star’s six-night residency at the London Palladium as part of a Covid-delayed world tour that he bills simply as My Songs.

Sting has always been a divisive figure. Since his faux-punk years in the police, he’s been an accomplished musical craftsman, cleverly weaving trace elements of rock, jazz, reggae and global musical styles into hard-hitting pop tunes. The problem? It’s all too obvious how good he knows he is.

The finesse with which Sting dispenses the heavy hitters of Message in a Bottle and Every Little Thing She Does is magical at the start of the set so easily tips over into smugness. He’s prone to distilling those sharp songs, with hooks to hang your hat on, in free-form jazz.

The new songs If It’s Love and Rushing Water, from his lockdown album The Bridge, are exquisitely honed exercises in chic adult rock that yearn for us to take them as seriously as they take themselves. Sting peeks sporadically between his cheekbones, to check that we appreciate how smart he is.

There are lots of noodles. The suspended rhythms of Walking on the Moon follow one another in Bob Marley’s Get Up Stand Up and Sting looks very, very white. Roxanne remains a masterclass in sublime pop alchemy but can’t emerge unscathed from an under-Cleo Laine scat singing episode.

The elegant menace of Every Breath You Take still resonates 40 years later, and as a composer of infectious pop nuggets, Sting is almost unrivalled. But you leave the Palladium knowing that if it could eat itself, it would.

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