With the sad breakup of The Police, members of the former trio were free to do whatever musically. Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland would make experimental music in the mode of Brian Eno, while Sting explored the jazz undertones hinted at in the last few Police albums. By far the most successful of the ex-Police, Sting had started writing for a solo project even as the Police were working on Synchronicity. Some of what Sting wrote was inspired by the same well of ideals that made Synchronicity so successful.
For his first solo album, Sting would rely more on jazz and less on ska, reggae and collegiate level Russian literature for musical inspiration. Anyone following The Police would have noticed the gradual sophistication that made the band’s original raw punk energy look juvenile.
The Dream of the Blue Turtles marks where the alt-rock of the Police ended and the beginning of Sting’s contemporary jazz exploration would begin. Accompanied by team of serious jazz musicians that included Branford Marsalis on sax and percussion, there was no doubting the former’s rockers new artistic intentions.
Stings writing influences had shifted, to more topical subjects that ranged from coal miner strikes (‘We Work in the Black Seam’), to parental drug abuse and it’s effects on children (‘Children’s Crusade’). Even the high art literary influences were gone and in its place works like Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire would inspire the song ‘Moon Over Bourbon Street’. Being the mid-80s as it was, no pop album would have been complete without a song about the Cold War and ‘The Dream of the Blue Turtles delivered with the Police-like ‘Russians’.
In all 4 singles were released with the most successful, ‘If You Love Somebody Set Them Free’ reaching up to #2 in America and not far behind in the UK. The upbeat romp had the distinction of being one of the first songs from Sting to be played on urban radio.
While jazz was the predominant musical style, there was the occasional song that hinted to the new wave roots of The Police, as on ‘Fortress Around Your Heart’. The song was inspired by Sting’s divorce, an ordeal that also inspired ‘Every Breath You Take’ and ‘King of Pain’ from Synchronicity.
Ghosts of The Police show up in other ways including the tropical sounds ‘Love Is the Seventh Wave’. Recorded in Barbados, it’s a slight departure from the more structured pop jazz of the rest of the album.
Besides being a sales success, Sting’s initial flirtation with jazz was accepted by the critics, many seeing jazz as a natural progression of an artist who had hinted at it for so many years. In fact The Dream of the Blue Turtles would be nominated for at least four Grammys including “Album of the Year” and “Best Jazz Instrumental”. Although Sting went home empty-handed during that night, he had won over the jazz community and was respected by musicians and recording engineers. Sting’s infatuation with audiophile quality recording techniques also won The Dream of the Blue Turtles a nomination for “Best Engineered Recording”, just like Synchronicity a few years before.
Sting’s early solo career would go from light jazz/pop to jazz influenced adult contemporary. The success of Dreams of the Blue Turtles would not be matched by subsequent releases, but his reputation as an artist of integrity would grow, even as his pretentiousness seemed to subsided with age.
I still missed the Police, or the ideal of them. So when I wanted to hear what they might have sounded like if they ditched the ska and reggae and went all rock experimental, I just listened to Andy Summers. As for Sting, he became like Stevie Wonder to me. That is, I had tremendous respect for his work, even if I wasn’t buying it anymore. It was hard to see Sting go off into the adult contemporary sunset, but no one can stay a young rebellious punk forever.