The Soul Cages
The Soul Cages was written in response to the death of Sting’s father. It’s effectively a concept album, with Sting wrestling with issues like his relationship with his father, his father’s Catholicism, and his childhood in the industrial port of Newcastle; while the themes run through the album, there’s also a story arc that runs through ‘Island of Souls’ and the title track. The subject matter lends itself to different instrumentation, like the folk sound of Northumbrian pipes on some tracks. On these personal songs, Sting’s lyrics here are among his strongest, and rarely awkward.
The central track here is ‘Why Should I Cry For You’, a beautiful ballad where Sting wrestles with his relationship with his father – a pretty folk-like melody accompanied with exotic percussion. ‘The Wild, Wild Sea’ is even more introspective and intense, where the repetitive melody sets the stage for the lyrics (“When the bridge to heaven is broken/And you’re lost on the wild wild sea”) and building tension. The guitar rock of the title track is also engrossing, but in hindsight it probably shouldn’t have won the Grammy for best rock song in front of Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. There are also strong songs that don’t quite fit in with the rest of the album; ‘Mad About You’ is a melodic single, while ‘Jeremiah Blues Pt. 2’ is a fun blues-jazz romp, although ‘When The Angels Fall’ doesn’t have quite enough ideas to sustain its length.
Sting himself nominates The Soul Cages as his best album, and he’s since returned to the material with The Last Ship. It’s not flawless, but it’s a major work from an artist who’s sometimes unfairly disparaged.