Sting Releases New Album '57th & 9th' After a decade, the singer-songwriter has a new album. He talks with NPR's Michel Martin about U.S. elections, Brexit, the Bataclan, the migrant crisis — and his own mortality.
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'I Have A Purpose': Sting Talks About '57th & 9th' And Why He's Still Here

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'I Have A Purpose': Sting Talks About '57th & 9th' And Why He's Still Here

'I Have A Purpose': Sting Talks About '57th & 9th' And Why He's Still Here

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now here's something a bit more familiar.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROXANNE")

THE POLICE: (Singing) Roxanne, you don't have to put on the red light.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE")

THE POLICE: (Singing) I hope that someone gets my, I hope that someone gets my message in a bottle.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE")

THE POLICE: (Singing) Every vow you break, every smile you fake, every claim you stake, I'll be watching you.

MARTIN: Those were all hits from the 1980s rock band The Police, led by the singer-songwriter known as Sting. Last night, Sting performed those songs and more at a special concert to reopen the Bataclan concert hall in Paris, held on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the vicious terrorist attacks that left 90 people dead.

Before he headed to Paris, though, Sting came by our New York bureau to share his thoughts about his upcoming trip and his latest album just out this week called "57th & 9th," his first collection of original songs in more than a decade. And I started by asking him his thoughts about the recent election.

STING: Like everyone, I'm bemused and I'm a little bit in shock. But I think we have to be optimistic because the only strategy we are allowed really. It's similar to what happened in my country in June when 52 percent of the people voted to leave something that was actually beneficial for us. But, you know, the world is in a state of change.

MARTIN: Well, another issue that you are thinking about is the whole question of the refugee crisis, which is really worldwide. But you talk about this in a new song on the new album, invoking the Arabic phrase inshallah, God willing. Can we play a little bit?

STING: Sure.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "INSHALLAH")

STING: (Singing) Inshallah, inshallah, if it be your will, it shall come to pass.

MARTIN: Talk to me about that, if you would. What inspired you?

STING: The migrant crisis is something that isn't going to disappear tomorrow. It's driven by warfare in the Middle East. It's driven by poverty in Africa. It may be driven by climate change in the very near future. So it's not going to be something that we can hope to end tomorrow.

I don't have a political solution. But I feel if there is a solution to it, it has to be grounded in some kind of empathy for those people in those boats because we as a species all migrate. We're all migrants. So I think if we have a feeling of empathy, just a little intellectual exercise of putting yourself in a boat like that with your wife and your children, how does that feel? And I think it's an important exercise, if you'd like.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "INSHALLAH")

STING: (Singing) As the wind blows, growing colder, against the sad boats, as we flee.

MARTIN: Is it OK if we transition here for a minute and talk about something that we all remember? Not to connect the two ideas, but I don't know how elegantly else to get there is that you are traveling to Paris to perform at the reopening of the Bataclan almost a year after the terrorist attacks there in Paris. And I just wondered how did that all come together? How did you come to be doing that?

STING: Well, I was just invited to do it. I think the venue was struggling for obvious reasons, but also because it's the anniversary of the appalling attack, I think it's important that we honor the dead, we remember the dead, but also celebrate this very famous venue which I worked at in 1979, I think. So when I was asked if I would do it, I immediately said yes. I think it's important.

MARTIN: You said in the Times interview that you had planned to open with your 1987 hit "Fragile."

STING: Yeah.

MARTIN: Is that still the plan?

STING: That's still the plan. I think it's an appropriate beginning. I think that song has a lot of uses, you know, that were never foresaw. I wrote the song in the '80s, I think. But every time something happens, it seems an appropriate song to play on the radio.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FRAGILE")

STING: (Singing) Perhaps this final act was meant to clinch a lifetime's argument that nothing comes from violence and nothing ever comes...

MARTIN: It is true that this is a song that people often turn to for comfort after something tragic, something sad has happened. How do you feel about that?

STING: You know, it's the best compliment a songwriter can receive, much more than awards or whatever. When someone comes up to me, so, you know, we got married to your song, we fell in love to your song or we played your song at Uncle Charlie's funeral, that actually makes you realize that by accident you've created the kind of emotional soundtrack to people's lives. You know, I didn't set out to do that at all. You know, I just - I wanted to be a songwriter and a singer just for the glory of it. But by accident you realize that you've done this for people. And that's - it's very nourishing when you hear that.

MARTIN: Well, wheeling around to talk about that and now becoming an internationally known, you know, superstar, there's a song on the latest album that I wanted to ask about, the song "50,000." And I think I read - I hope this is accurate - that you wrote the song the week that Prince died. Is that correct?

STING: Well, it was a tough year in my business. You know, a lot of notable cultural icons were taken from us - David Bowie, for one, Prince, Glenn Frey from The Eagles and many, many others. It was shocking. And, of course, like all of us, there's a child in me that sees these cultural icons as being somehow immortal. And we all were shocked irrationally when they proved to be very mortal.

I'm 65 years old. I imagine I've lived most of my life already, so it definitely makes you have to accept your own mortality.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "50,000")

STING: (Singing) Another obituary in the paper today, one more for the list of those already fallen. Another of our comrades is taken down like so many others of our calling.

The song is really about that. It's about someone like me, a rock star, looking back on his, you know, stadium days playing to 50,000 people, 100,000, 200,000 and then on reflection wondering where he learned his philosophy, which is, of course, in reflection. And in later life, you learn to accept mortality and you're not a god.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: You know, in the song you have the line that rock stars don't ever die. They only fade away. Is that...

STING: It's a play on words...

MARTIN: Yes...

STING: ...Play on words...

MARTIN: Well, yes. I couldn't decide, is that hopeful or not hopeful?

STING: It's both. (laughter) - the fading away is the fading of a record. You know, when a record fades out, you seem to be going on forever. But we don't, we actually do fade away sometimes.

MARTIN: Well, you haven't. Not yet, no.

STING: I'm still fighting (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF STING SONG, "I CAN'T STOP THINKING ABOUT YOU")

MARTIN: That was Sting, joining us from our bureau in New York. He's got a new album out, "57th & 9th." Sting, thanks so much for speaking with us.

STING: It's a pleasure. God bless.

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