30 Years Ago: Sting Tries (and Fails) to Make an LP That Isn’t About Him
Sting attempted to do something on his fourth album that hadn't happened before: Make an album that wasn't about Sting.
This was in direct response to his earlier solo releases. ...Nothing Like the Sun was inspired by his mother’s death and his work with Amnesty International. Sting's follow up, The Soul Cages, was a concept album built around the death of his father.
Such heavy topics helped bring out impressive songs, but they were also emotionally draining. When it came time to create Ten Summoner’s Tales, Sting decided to mine new creative sources. “I didn’t want to write about myself,” he told VH1. “So I made up stories about other people – sometimes frivolous, sometimes romantic, sometimes funny.”
Ten Summoner’s Tales would become a “ragbag of styles and influences,” rather than another LP with an overarching theme. Sting crafted characters with each song telling its own distinctive story.
Watch Sting's Music Video for 'Shape of My Heart'
On “Shape of My Heart,” he imagined a poker player “who gambles not to win but to try and figure out something; to figure out some kind of mystical logic in luck, or chance; some kind of scientific, almost religious law.”
For "Saint Augustine in Hell,” Sting turned to biblical inspiration: "I always liked St. Augustine because he was a very human saint," he told VH1. "One of my favorite sayings of his was 'God make me pure, but not yet' – which is kind of my ethos."
The bittersweet side of romance would inspire “Fields of Gold,” one of Ten Summoner’s Tales’ most popular tracks. “It’s about feeling very joyous in the moment, but it’s the sadness of knowing that this joy will not last,” Sting added. He later recalled how the tune’s distinctive imagery came to him as he gazed out the window of his 16th-century home.
“In England, our house is surrounded by barley fields, and in the summer it's fascinating to watch the wind moving over the shimmering surface, like waves on an ocean of gold,” he explained in Lyrics by Sting. “There's something inherently sexy about the sight – something primal, as if the wind were making love to the barley.”
Listen to Sting Perform 'Fields of Gold'
No matter who much he tried to steer Ten Summoner’s Tales into new territory, however, Sting ultimately couldn’t help but make the album about himself. The subjects he created made things less overtly autobiographical, but many of them were infused with his own characteristics. The most obvious example was the album’s biggest hit, “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You."
“I define very clearly what I’ve lost faith in: technology and organized religion and the media and progress,” Sting told VH1. “But it’s not so easy to define what I still have faith in, and yet I do. I clearly do have faith in something, but I don’t define it – and I think that’s important, not to define it.”
Released on March 1, 1993, Ten Summoner’s Tales was a massive success, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, winning three Grammy Awards and eventually selling more than 3 million copies in America alone. It remains one of the most popular LPs in Sting’s catalog, even if Ten Summoner’s Tales didn’t quite turn out the way he envisioned.
“I decided that I would make this record and not write about myself and then say, ‘Ha! Now what do you know about me?’” Sting added. “I don’t think I managed to keep myself out of it that much. I think it’s probably all about me.”
Watch Sting's Video for 'If I Ever Lose My Faith In You'