In the category of “unfortunate timing” fell Sting’s plan to stage a concert from his home in Italy. He intended to play reworked versions of songs in front of a handpicked crowd, and this would be simulcast on the Internet. Eventually a DVD and album would result from it as well.
Obviously those last two events occurred or I’d have nothing to write about here. However, tragedy affected the overall package, since Sting planned to perform on September 11, 2001. After some discussion, he decided to go ahead with an apparently scaled-down version of the show, but only one track - the timely “Fragile” - went out over the Internet.
The DVD release of …All This Time documents the concert, or most of it, at least - more about that issue later. The show began a fairly moving and powerful version of “Fragile”, and the day’s events seem reflected in Sting’s demeanor. Though the show included some fairly bouncy numbers like “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” and “Brand New Day”, the tone remained reasonably somber, at least in regard to Sting. To my surprise, the crowd seemed almost peppy at times, and the band appeared to brighten up as well. This came across as vaguely inappropriate considering the recent nature of the events. I’m all for using music to lighten the load, but there’s a time and a place, and it looked weird here; at times it came across as though the occasion had no connection to September 11.
That might be truer than it seems on the surface. As we learn during this DVD’s documentary, Sting and the band staged a dress rehearsal on September 10, and that performance was filmed as well. The two seem quite similar, as everyone wore the same clothes, and it’d be very hard to know which is which. As such, it appears possible that some of the numbers came from the earlier show.
The DVD wraps them up tightly enough that I can’t say that with any certainty, however. Adding to the confusion are the multiple CD versions of …All This Time. The North American package includes 15 songs; it features everything on the DVD except for “Seven Days” and “Shape Of My Heart”. The UK edition tosses in “Shape” but drops “Days” and offers “Mad About You” instead. The international package replicates the US set and adds “Mad About You”. Only the Japanese edition gives us everything, as it provides all 18 songs.
I did a little research to figure out what the scoop was, and the best info I got was from Sonicnet, which stated that the September 11 show included 18 songs. That makes it seem probable that …All This Time indeed comes solely from that performance. However, a report from a Sting FAQ muddies the waters, as it notes that the CDs and DVD include material from the 10th and 11th.
Oy - what a mess, and this probably falls into “who cares, you anal nitwit!” territory anyway. It seems very odd that the DVD would include all of the songs from September 11 except “Mad About You”, though. It’s possible that video complications arose during that number; obviously the audio was fine since it appears on some CD releases.
In any case, …All This Time actually becomes more interesting due to its timing. Sting refers to the events of the day at times, and as I noted, the pain seems etched in his face for much of the show. If I separate the concert from its historical factors, though, it seems a bit less compelling. I’ve been a Sting fan for decades. The Police were my third-ever concert back in 1982, and I’ve taken in shows during every Police/Sting tour since then. I also own all of his albums as well as a slew of singles, so I’m pretty Sting experienced.
While I still enjoy his work, I must admit my enthusiasm has declined over the years as Sting has mellowed ridiculously. I went into this issue more fully during my review of his recent Live From the Universal Amphitheatre release, so I won’t chew my fat twice. Just let it suffice to say that his music has lost a lot of character as his albums from the last decade seem largely interchangeable.
The last thing we need is for Sting to go for even more low-key takes on his tunes, but that’s what he does during …All This Time. Although the package touts “reinvented arrangements”, most of the songs still sound pretty familiar. “Roxanne” gets a Latin kick, and “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” loses its post-punk edginess, neither of which improve upon the original material. I liked the added backing vocals for “All This Time”, and I can’t claim that any of the songs sound bad; in truth they’re all eminently listenable and entertaining.
However, I remain convinced that this isn’t the necessary path for Der Stingle. If he continues to mellow at this rate, he’ll eventually turn into Perry Como. Sting hasn’t started to test my patience, unlike Prince, who’s nothing but a weak shadow of himself; while I’d like to hear something more energetic from Sting, his work remains good for the most part.
Still, I’d really like to see some true reinvention of his material. …All This Time also suffers from the contempt of familiarity. The setlist mixes in a mere three Police tunes, and none of them are exactly obscure; “Roxanne”, “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” and “Every Breath You Take” are about as famous as Police material gets.
The remainder of the package divides mainly among various solo albums. “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” and “Moon Over Bourbon” street represent 1985’s The Dream of the Blue Turtles, while “Fragile” comes from 1987’s …Nothing Like the Sun. 1991’s The Soul Cages provides “All This Time” (and “Mad About You”, if you count the missing track), while 1993’s Ten Summoner’s Tales gives us “Fields Of Gold”, “Seven Days”, “Shape of My Heart” and “If I Ever Lose My Faith In You”. 1996’s Mercury Falling offers just “The Hounds of Winter”, while 1999’s Brand New Day provides “A Thousand Years”, “Perfect Love …Gone Wrong”, and its title track. “When We Dance” was a bonus track on Sting’s 1994 greatest hits album Fields of Gold, while “Dienda” was composed by the late Kenny Kirkland, a prior keyboardist with Sting; it appears in the original instrumental version on Branford Marsalis’ 1986 Royal Garden Blues, but Sting wrote lyrics for it that make their bow here.
Obviously “Dienda” is a rarity, but virtually all of the other songs have received a lot of concert time over the years. Eight of them are repeat customers from the Universal Amphitheatre DVD, and the others are fairly ordinary choices. “Don’t Stand So Close to Me”, “All This Time”, “Roxanne”, “Fields of Gold”, and “If I Ever Lose My Faith In You” don’t exactly go out on an artistic limb. Some of the others like “The Hounds of Winter”, “When We Dance”, and “Shape of My Heart” are less well known, but they suffer from the same light tone that affects most of the other songs. Eventually many of them start to sound an awful lot alike.
That’s why I think Sting really needs to do something different. It’d be great to see him get back to his earlier styles and play with a smaller group. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to hear his post-Police work cast in that same basic style with just bass, guitar and drums? I think so, but I seriously doubt that’ll ever happen. He seems set on continuing his more mellow ways.
Getting away from the musical content, …All This Time offers a fairly dull visual experience, but that’s not the fault of the program’s director. Sting and the band are crammed into a pretty small space, so any potential movement becomes less likely. Actually, Sting isn’t the most energetic performer anymore as it is, so even with a broader stage, it’s still likely the performance would remain static.
On the positive side, the production remains tasteful at all times. The filmmakers don’t try to artificially spice up the proceedings with rapid editing or silly effects. It’s an appropriately low-key affair that may not seem fascinating to watch, but at least it aptly represents the event.
On its own, …All This Time offers a reasonably entertaining and listenable affair. Despite my apprehension about the mellow path he’s taken, I still like Sting and consider him one of my 15 or so favorite artists. My main problem with …All This Time is that it offers little that’s new or special. Sting hasn’t really “reinvented” his songs, and the result is a package that never strays much from the familiar.
…All This Time appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This may be the most attractive concert presentation I’ve ever seen, as …All This Time offered a consistently excellent and nearly flawless picture.
Sharpness looked very precise and detailed throughout the show. The image came across as crisp and distinct, and I saw virtually no signs of softness. This was a rock-solid picture that looked terrific. Some exceedingly minor moiré effects cropped up once or twice, but these were very minor, and I saw no problems related to edge enhancement or jagged edges. Source flaws seemed totally absent.
Colors appeared exceedingly warm and rich. The show featured a subdued but lovely palette that tended toward pastel tones, and these all came across with excellent intensity and detail. The hues seemed very lively and enchanting. Black levels were also nicely deep, while shadow detail appeared appropriately heavy but never excessively thick.
I almost gave this one an “A+” for picture, as it really did offer a stunning image. However, a few concerns did crop up along the way, totally due to some specific camerawork. Occasionally we saw shots that appeared to come from mounted cameras which focused on one specific performer each. For example, one stayed with drummer Manu Katche throughout the show. These showed weaker quality than the rest of the production, as they looked a bit soft and murky at times. The vast majority of the concert presented such a stellar image that I still think …All This Time heartily earned its “A” grade, but I needed to note that it wasn’t a perfect production. Still, it remained an absolutely stellar piece for the most part.
While the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of …All This Time wasn’t quite as breathtaking, it nonetheless offered a very solid listening experience. The soundfield provided a fairly standard spectrum for a concert presentation. The forward channels dominated the show, as the front demonstrated fine stereo separation. Sting’s vocals remained appropriately centered, while backup singing emanated from the sides in a natural way. Instruments spread cleanly and smoothly across the front and they blended neatly to create a nicely involving presence. The surrounds mainly restricted themselves to the standard mix of musical reinforcement and crowd noise, and they helped place the audio in a realistic setting.
Sound quality appeared strong. Vocals came across as natural and warm, and Sting’s singing was appropriately up-front but not overly loud or prominent; his tones seemed accurate and distinct. …All This Time packed in a lot of instrumentalists, but the mix was able to separate them cleanly and give them appropriate room to breathe. The different aspects of the track sounded bright and vivid, and the mix boasted nicely deep and rich bass response at all times. Overall, this was a clear and accurate track that appeared to represent the original material well.
…All This Time packs in a few supplements as well. Actually, I’m not sure if I should consider the main extra to be an extra at all. The DVD touts itself as both a documentary and a concert presentation. By that token, I shouldn’t regard the former as a supplement. However, this DVD exists mainly to show the concert; the rest of it’s gravy, as far as I’m concerned, so I regard everything but the main performance as an extra. The fact that the VHS release of …All This Time only includes the concert itself supports my decision. (And it’s a truncated concert at that; the videotape provides only 14 of the songs. Take that, VHS!)
So how about that documentary, anyway? The 71-minute program focuses on the preparations for the concert. We meet Sting at his Tuscan villa where he’ll stage the show, and the documentary offers interview snippets with him as well as bassist Christian McBride, percussionist Marcus Suzano, guitarist Dominic Miller, drummer Manu Katche, trumpet player Chris Botti, and keyboardist Kipper. Most of the program revolves around behind the scenes footage, however, as we watch rehearsals for the concert.
On the surface, this sounds like an interesting proposition, but in reality, I thought the documentary was a little dull. Let It Be this ain’t, so don’t expect any fireworks among the crew. A behind the scenes documentary about the Police would have been great, since those three hated each other, but it’s very clear that everyone here is on Sting’s team, and they all strongly defer to their boss. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that the interviews seem somewhat dull. Everyone echoes how terrific Sting is, and he certainly doesn’t try to disagree. The interviews offer a little insight into the process behind the show, but they seem fairly superficial.
The behind the scenes footage is similarly lackluster. I’d like to see the musicians explore the songs more and watch some depth in their interactions, but mainly we just check out fairly finished expositions. Even the snippets from September 11 - as Sting and the others decide what to do - don’t show much emotion or passion. Overall, this documentary merits a look for Sting fans, but it’s not something that will reveal much depth. It was cool to learn that Sting has trouble playing bass without singing, but otherwise, interesting details are few and far between.
The documentary does have some cool touches, though. For one, it offers an anamorphically enhanced image and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. The picture’s not as strong as it is during the concert - obviously due to the equipment used for the behind the scenes shots - but I still appreciate the effort. In addition, an icon appears from time to time. Hit “enter” and you can watch the concert performance of the song being discussed.
One cool aspect of the documentary: it offers the option to watch the concert performance as well. Actually, it does this in two ways. You can select “View Entire Program”, which will play the documentary and the concert will come immediately after that. Also, if you check out the documentary, periodically you’ll see a little “S” icon. Hit “enter” and the DVD will jump to the concert performance of the song being discussed. It plops you right back where you started when it ends. Nice!
In addition, we get three Bonus Tracks. These include “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic”, “Fill Her Up” and “Englishman In New York”. Presented with the same fine anamorphic picture and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound heard in the main program, these songs run a total of 12 minutes and 15 seconds. Actually, they appear to come from the September 10 dress rehearsal performance. We see bits of this during the documentary, and comparisons of the two versions of “Englishman” reveal they’re identical. In any case, they’re a nice addition to the package.
One note about the bonus songs: “Fill Her Up” appears to be truncated. The standard version concludes with a gospel tone, but this one fades before that occurs. It’s possible Sting dropped that part of the song for this rendition, but since the program cuts away pretty abruptly, it’s obvious something was omitted. The “Bonus Tracks” area also clearly doesn’t include all of the songs played at the dress rehearsal that didn’t show up during the September 11 set. We see a substantial portion of “Desert Rose” during the documentary, and since it featured a very sexy belly dancer, I’m disappointed it doesn’t appear elsewhere in the supplements.
Overall, …All This Time provides a fairly decent musical program, but I can’t say it did a lot for me. I’ve heard and seen so much of Sting over the years that these “reinvented” versions of his songs seem rather ordinary; he doesn’t do much to make them stand out from prior renditions. The concert is very professional and listenable, but it lacks much of a spark.
As for the DVD, it offers absolutely stellar picture quality along with excellent sound and a nice roster of extras. Since …All This Time doesn’t really expand Sting’s horizons, normally I’d recommend a package like this only to his biggest fans. However, in this case, I think casual partisans might be more pleased with it. They won’t mind the semi-monotony of the setlist and the renditions, whereas those who know the material better may feel more disenchanted. It’s a nice program for those who don’t own much Sting. Granted, the diehards will probably want it as well or else they wouldn’t be diehards, but they shouldn’t expect anything out of the ordinary.