Tag Archives: Sting

Just Try Not to Listen

The level of commerce that is associated with rock and roll is something that is best not thought about. It’s sort of like the old line that you never want to go into the kitchen of a restaurant—regardless of whether it has three Michelin stars or it is a McDonald’s—because you’re likely not to have much of an appetite as a result of what you’ll discover.

So it is best that we enjoy the filet—or the Filet o’ Fish—without much consideration beyond the object itself.

It is best that we enjoy the work of our performers without knowing what it is that has gotten them in front of us, assuming, of course, that the performers in question are those who have visibility that is perceptible beyond a small group of like minds.

But sometimes it is bracing to see how things are.

Case in point: the boiler plate description of Clear Channel Radio. This is how that company describes itself:

“With 237 million monthly listeners in the U.S., Clear Channel Radio has the largest reach of any radio or television outlet in America. The company’s radio stations and content can be heard on AM/FM stations, HD digital radio channels, Sirius/XM satellite, on the Internet at iHeartRadio.com, and on the iHeartRadio mobile application on iPads, and smartphones, and used via navigation systems from TomTom, Garmin and others. The company’s operations include radio broadcasting, online and mobile services and products, syndication, event and promotion creation and operation, music research services and national television, radio and digital media representation. Clear Channel Radio is a division of CC Media Holdings, Inc. (OTCBB:CCMO), a leading global media and entertainment company. More information on the company can be found at www.ccmediaholdings.com.”

Sort of sounds like that Skynet from the Terminator movies. Or, to take another science fictional analogy, the Borg. Resistance is futile.

This past weekend Clear Channel launched iHeartRadio, its competitor to Pandora. And it just didn’t hold a press conference followed by a cocktail party.

Rather, it held a two-day event at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. It calls it the “inaugural iHeartRadio Music Festival.” A music festival in a stadium in a casino seems a bit odd, but there it was.

The event started with the Black Eyed Peas. It closed with Lady Gaga. And in between there were performers ranging from Jay-Z to Sting, from Kelly Clarkson to Jeff Beck, from Jane’s Addiction to Kenny Chesney. It was hosted by Ryan Seacrest.

That’s entertainment circa 2011. Sure, it’s long been this way. Just not so widely and well packaged.

My advice: Stay out of the kitchen.

The Police – Live in Chicagoland

The Police 2008 World TourThe Police with Elvis Costello at Allstate Arena

Saturday, May 10, 2008, Rosemont, Illinois

Twenty five years ago, Sting unleashed a cynical lyrical torrent on unsuspecting suburbanites everywhere with “Synchronicity II,” one family’s tale of mind numbing banality in the manicured hinterlands. The location is purposely unidentified because that’s the point of suburbia-it’s not ANYwhere at all—it’s neither the city nor the county, it’s neither cosmopolitan nor is it pastoral, it’s neither hip nor square. It simply IS.

Continue reading The Police – Live in Chicagoland

Stung: Steve Nieve’s Welcome to the Voice

steve-nieve-welcome.jpgSteve NieveWelcome to the Voice (Deutsche Grammophon)

If I had noticed that Welcome to the Voice was released on Deutsche Grammophon, I would have thought more about buying it. Or longer. But I was still in the mode of remembering when Elvis Costello introduced Nieve near the end of the recent Detroit show; he mentioned there was a forthcoming disc from Nieve, the maestro. So I didn’t notice. I didn’t stop and think. And now I have done my financial bit to support music that I’m not particularly interested in listening to. There are two reasons why this is so.

I’m not taken with the vocal stylings of Sting. And for many intents and purposes, Welcome to the Voice is a Sting-dominated recording. One might argue that the Brodsky Quartet is featured just as prominently, given their musical accompaniment, but Sting even trumps Barbara Bonney, a soprano opera singer, who sings the role of, well, the Opera Singer for whom Sting’s character, Dionysos, lusts. Robert Wyatt also sings quite a bit on the record, and when I think back to the Soft Machine selections that I enjoyed, I realize they were instrumentals. Costello does a couple of turns, as well, but comparatively speaking, they’re but cameos. So if I wanted to listen to Sting perform as he did when interpreting the work of Brecht and Weill, then I would have dug out a cassette of Lost in the Stars.

Continue reading Stung: Steve Nieve’s Welcome to the Voice

A Brand New Culture War That Takes Till It Hurts

Some of you may note that the headline above combines the two headlines directly below this with—what else—but a reference to none other than Sting. As I’ve previously mentioned, I happen to use MSN for Internet access, and when I logged on this afternoon I not only discovered a brand new interface for the site, but right there on top, a photo of the musician in question, who was hired by Microsoft (and for some reason, Intel Pentium 4 has something to do with it: perhaps the performance will be done while the band wears bunny suits) to help promote XP. (At least the folks from Redmond didn’t try to roll out the Stones again a la Win ’95.)

So let’s see. . .We have sab’s “Big Business” slathering Sting across the ‘Net (the concert, physically happening in NYC, is, of course, being webcast); this, unlike what Phil wrote about, is clearly about commercialism, pure and simple.

The benefit concert in NYC, regardless of how good it was or wasn’t, still reminds us of what the best in music is all about, which is a generosity of spirit, if not always one of fact.

Seems to me that these corporate gigs show that “The Man” hasn’t sold us out, but that the people who we may have once thought were on “our” side are really most interested in their own self-interest.

“We won’t get fooled again”? I doubt it.

All For Who?

In our on-going efforts to track the nexus between Big Business and Bigger Business, we’ve discovered still another development. As you may recall, Jaguar had been using rock superslug Sting to promote its cars, demonstrating how the Jag can lull Sting to sweet dreams of rainforests or more song-writing gigs for cartoon movies.

But now we’ve learned that Jag is sponsoring Janet Jackson’s “All For You World Tour 2001.” Well, that may not be exactly right: there is a “partnership,” such that those considering the tour will see Jag in the tour title, advertising, promotion, publicity, and even the ducats. Undoubtedly looking something like a NASCAR race with a single sponsor, there will be X-Type display logos all around the venues.

Says Michelle Cervantez, vp of Marketing for Jaguar North America: “Jaguar’s relationship with Janet Jackson is a powerful statement of our intentions to become more accessible to a new generation of Jaguar owners.” Yep. All those people who buy tour T-shirts are undoubtedly going to make their way to dealers, post-haste.

In addition to all of the aforementioned signage and even a car at the venues, concert goers will be subjected to a “video” featuring Janet and a black X-Type. (I am not making this up.) Presumably said video is more commonly known as a “commercial.”

But this isn’t just any run-of-the-mill spot. It was produced by Spike Lee’s 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks. According to renown Knicks fan Mr. Lee, “Our partnership has assisted Jaguar in communicating to a more diverse audience. This project is a direct result of that strengthening relationship.” The “relationship” he is referring to is a “marketing partnership” between Jaguar North America and 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, which was established in April. Which presumably means that since Nike spots aren’t what they once were, Lee will be creating ads for Jag. (Ah, what about, oh, making movies?)

So let’s review. Sting. Everclear. Aerosmith. Janet. I’m throwing my vote in for GloNo partnering with some automaker. Any suggestions, Sab?

HE DID IT ALL FOR THE NOOKIE

The Sting/Jaguar love story is a curious one, one which will have repercussions on a mainstream music industry that is seeing its already crumbling credibility disintegrate faster than Sting’s songwriting capabilities.

Sting’s 2000 release “Brand New Day” and its marginal title track lead single failed to jump-start a career that had been stuck in neutral since at least 1995. What was to be done? The sour-pussed rocker himself wanted to release the world pop-ish “Desert Rose” as the next single. But radio put on the ki-bosh, balking at the song’s Arabic intro (sung by rai superstar Cheb Mami).

“Desert Rose” would’ve gone into the poor man’s Peter Gabriel bin, if not for some clever whoring on the part of Sting and his handlers.

The former Police bassist had already chosen the Jaguar S-TYPE as his ride of choice in the video for “Desert Rose,” believing that the car “evoke[d] the feeling and style of success we were trying to achieve.”

And — wouldn’t you know it? — a collaboration with ol’ Sting and his feeling of style and success was perfect for Jaguar’s domestic S-TYPE branding strategy.

Al Saltiel, general marketing manger for Jaguar, expounded about why his company jumped into bed with the fading rockstar and his desperate attempt for “Desert Rose” airplay. “One of our key strategic goals is to reach a broader market. We believe this campaign will help us do that.”

Sting got his wish after the ad began airing in the US. People hearing the song’s swirling, Pier One-esque Arab vocal and worldbeat polyrhythms quickly began requesting it on their local AAA/Adult Contemporary radio outlets.

It’s amazing how a song’s relationship to a particular product’s branding strategy will help it achieve heights never imagined by the artist. Famous vegan Moby’s compositions from his Play LP are some of the most-licensed songs of all time, with top-drawer clients including Nordstrom’s and Nike. After those and other spots featured such tracks as “Natural Blues” and “Honey,” Moby found himself at the top of the Modern Rock heap, appearing on various MTV incarnations as well as The Grammys. It’s a pretty safe bet that without the ad tie-ins, Play’s downtempo beats and Americana sampling wouldn’t have been heard by anyone other than NYC hipsters and people with large headphones on subways. Instead, mid-American teenyboppers, insecure female urban professionals in their 30s and soundtrack buyers all pooled their efforts to push the album into gold status and beyond. Information wasn’t available on how many Jaguar S-TYPE’s were purchased as a result of seeing Sting’s tush in one.

Moby is somewhat off the hook in the sell-out category, as he hasn’t compromised his famously activistic tendencies in the wake of his music’s sudden mainstream acceptance. Sting, on the other hand, should be kicked in the shins. No matter how much he loves “Desert Rose” and its mindless Cost Plus World Market approach to international pop, fully shilling it out to Jaguar to hawk their mid-priced sedan to Sting’s fanbase of rapidly aging, boring professionals is reprehensible. And the sad thing is that this sort of overt payola will most likely continue in an age of all- powerful brand strategies and impeccably researched product positioning. If an artist’s music fits a particular brand’s message, then offer him cash and hope he needs a career boost. Ideally, the product sells, the song gets adds on radio, and everyone gets real paid. Not a bad system, until a song with real vitality (i.e. not Sting’s blase bore-core) gets the marketing treatment.

JTL

Time to Put Out the Red Light, Sting

“That Sting—he’s a really good singer.”

—Sting, in a pre-Academy Awards interview during which he explained that (a) he was unlikely to receive an Oscar for “My Funny Friend and Me,” a song that he and David Hartley wrote for “The Emperor’s New Groove (he was right) and (b) what the members of the Academy were going to be thinking after his performance of the tune during the ceremony.

The first time I saw Rod Stewart in concert was in the very early ’70s at the Birmingham Palladium (Michigan, not England), when he was with the Faces, a band that featured the likes of Ron Wood and Ronnie Lane. As the band was essentially unknown then (people may have known the Small Faces), it was a listening situation where my friends and I sat on a bench with our feet propped up on the stage. I saw Stewart and the Faces several times after that, primarily at Cobo Arena. They’d become known. At the end of ’75, Stewart went solo. Before he became a disco Vegas lounge act (without playing Vegas: just running with the accoutrements and the approaches), I’d seen him multiple times.

Although I’m sure that many of you are wondering why anyone who openly admits he’s seen Stewart several times would be permitted to post stuff on the main page, I should point out that (a) when playing Detroit, he’d often invite the likes of David Ruffin on stage, (b) even on the peroxided “Blondes Have More Fun” (’78) he does a respectable version of “Standing in the Shadows of Love,” and (c) “The Mercury Anthology” (’82) is nails.

In 1984, after moving back to Detroit from a stint in Rockford, Illinois (Warren Zevon during a concert at the city’s Metro Center: “Rockford! ROCKford! How can you miss with a name like ROCKford!?! All 100 or so of us in the largely empty hall could have clued him in), my wife and I went to a concert at Pine Knob. It was Rod Stewart. He was out in support of his “Camouflage” album.

Let me say this about that: I once sat through a Three Dog Night concert. (Oddly enough, the lineup was Rod Stewart, Johnny Winter, and then the Night(mare). Unfortunately, I didn’t drive that night and the guy I was with had no idea who the other two acts were. I was nearly whipped to death by the fringe on his suede cowboy jacket as he kept time to the Dog’s greatest hits.

Fortunately, I did have the keys for Stewart at the Knob. We left. Fast. It was embarrassing for me to watch. I am only surprised that it wasn’t mortifying for him.

While never really being much of a fan of the Police or solo Sting, his is a career that is somewhat hard to miss. And there have certainly been some high points.

But will someone tell the guy that it is over? Elsewhere on this site the whole notion of musicians selling their music for wallpaper in ads has been debated. I don’t think anyone has gone as far as Sting and the Jaguar commercial (“What does a rock star dream of?”) He isn’t even driving the damn car! What is that all about?

I happened to catch him during the preshow activities at the Superbowl, during which he ended his act by jumping down about 2.5 feet from the top of an amp. Wow! That’s REALLY rockin’, Sting. His performance of the song referenced above during the Academy Awards show would have seem oddly stiff had he not hit so many flat notes.

Just as Stewart doesn’t fool anyone, Sting’s antics are pulling the wool over the eyes of only those who book acts for big, televised events. Oh, yeah, and the millions of people who still buy his whorish releases.