The Bridge was not an album Sting was planning to make — at least not in its particular time frame.
The veteran multi-hyphenate had reimagined some of his own material for My Songs in 2019 and had set sail with his musical The Last Ship during early 2020, with his own concert dates on the horizon. The pandemic shut those plans down, of course, and sent Sting back to the creative drawing board.
“It put me off my cycle,” Sting tells Billboard via Zoom, sitting in front of a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting in his New York City apartment. “I was in San Francisco with The Last Ship. The mayor shut the city down, quite rightly. I got my crew and myself back home to England, and then you say, ‘Well now what? Well, we’ll just move the cycle. I’ll just go in the studio.’
“So I’d start at 10 in the morning and work through ’til dinner every day. And that kept me sane. I was very fortunate, ’cause I know other people couldn’t do that.”
The process resulted in The Bridge, The Police man’s 15th studio album as a solo artist. Out Nov. 19, exactly eight months after his Duets compilation, it features 10 originals with another two as bonus tracks on the deluxe edition, plus a cover of Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” Being out of cycle, as he describes, there were no songs around, which made the process that much more exciting.
“For me it’s all about being surprised,” explains Sting, who co-produced The Bridge with his manager and Cherrytree Music Company chief Martin Kierszenbaum. “I always equate recording to fishing; You throw a line in the river and you get nothing most days and on the odd day you might catch a fish, or something that looks like a fish. Then you cook it and if you’re lucky after a year you have 12 fish.
“What I realized when I looked at them all individually was they were connected somehow. They were all about characters in transition, between one world and other, between relationships, life and death, and that was the connecting tissue. Then I wrote ‘The Bridge’ because I realized all the characters were looking for a bridge to the future that was somewhere different, somewhere safer, somewhere happier.
“And I think the whole planet is looking for a bridge at the moment. I am. Everyone is. It’s such an anxious time. No one knows what’s going to happen next year or the year after that with all these crises we’re facing. So a bridge seemed a useful metaphor that would resonate with people.”
Recorded with longtime cohorts, including guitarist Dominic Miller, drummers Manu Katche and Josh Freese and saxophonist Branford Marsalis, The Bridge crosses a characteristically broad stylistic range. “Rushing Water” starts things with funky, ’80s-flavored textures that lead into the buoyant, brassy pop of “If It’s Love” and the soulful strains of “The Book of Numbers” and “Loving You.” “Harmony Road,” “The Bells of St. Thomas,” “For Her Love” and the title track, meanwhile, explore gentler and more elegiac moods, while “Captain Bateman” adapts a 12th century English folk song from a book Sting keeps on his piano at home.
The latter, in fact, was the starting point for The Bridge. “It’s the story of a breach of promise,” Sting explains, “so I rewrote it in nine stanzas as opposed to 85. That was the beginning, just a way to get my feet wet, and then just every day I tried something different, jamming. Ideas came and we got here.”
With global tour plans on tap for 2022, Sting played “Rushing Water” and “If It’s Love” during his recent residency in Las Vegas, which along with some shows in Europe earlier this fall brought him back to live work. “It’s such a relief to be on stage again,” says Sting, who will be back in Vegas next June and hopes to resume The Last Ship tour during 2023. “I think the idea of a Vegas residence from the old days is very different to the reality now. Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck would be stuck there for years, never getting out. But now this gives me my own room…and the opportunity to explore visual aspects of the songs that I haven’t done before. It’s really a novelty for me. It’s exciting.”
The musical endeavors come in the wake of Sting’s latest acting appearance, playing himself in Only Murders in the Building, the Hulu mystery-comedy starring Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez. “To quote Shaggy, it wasn’t me” committing the murder, Sting says with a chuckle. “I’ve worked with Steve and Martin over the years, many times, so they wrote me into the script and said would I mind doing it? I said sure, it’s a straight drama, right? [laughs]. It was fun.”
Sting also has an implied presence in the new version of the science fiction epic Dune since he co-starred in the 1984 adaptation of the Frank Herbert novel. “The new one is a different animal, and I was very impressed by it,” he says, though it should be noted that his character, Feyd-Rautha, is expected to appear in the anticipated sequel. “I mean, how could they replace me?” Sting quips. “Impossible!”