Saturday, January 22, 2011

the soul cages

Gordon Sumner exorcised the demons of his Newcastle childhood with this mythic tribute to his late father. Northumbrian pipes draw us into the story of Billy who was born within sight of the shipyard and dreams of a ship to take him and his father away from their daily drudgery. An industrial accident cuts his father's life short and he finds himself doubting everything as he embarks on a vision quest. He sees the ruins of Hadrian's Wall and is reminded of the holy city of Jerusalem and sees them as the sum of our ambition. He feels frozen with his grief as he sails north, northwest of the stones of Farve seeking some kind of truth. In the midst of his darkness of the soul ("midnight at noon"), Billy identifies with the prophet Jeremiah (who insisted on an individual relationship with God) and St. Agnes (fearless even in the midst of the flames) and undertakes a journey through hope and loss and battles with a twisted demon fisherman for his very soul. In the wake of this struggle with faith and fear, he wonders if "perhaps the dream is dreaming us."

As priests deliver the last rites, Billy longs to escape the catechisms and bury his father at sea:

"And all this time the river flowed
In the falling light of a northern sun
If I had my way I'd take a boat from the river
Men go crazy in congregations
But they only get better
One by one"

"The song basically says, 'Well, the Romans were here 2000 years ago and their religion was very important, but it went. Then Christianity happened and that seems to be inadequate now. Let's look for bigger systems of continuity, like the river, this old religion.' The song is a kind of black comedy. I'm not really anti-religious. I'm just poking some light-hearted fun and also asking pragmatic questions about it."

'Mad About You' echoes the trials of King David "a stone's throw from Jerusalem".

"And from the dark, secluded valleys
I heard the ancient songs of sadness
But every step I thought of you
Every footstep only you..."

'Why Should I Cry For You?' relates a man on an arctic voyage of despair.

"But would north be true?
Why should I?
Why should I cry for you?
Dark angels follow me
Over a godless sea
Mountains of endless falling,
For all my days remaining"

'Jeremiah Blues (Part 1)'
"I've been called a Jeremiah with this whole ecology thing, so I decided to take a swipe at that stance, a side-long look at it. It's ambiguousness is nice; I didn't want to write songs about save the trees or don't kill the Lemmings. That's not art, it's propaganda."

"Every place around the world it seemed the same
Can't hear the rhythm for the drums
Everybody wants to look the other way
When something wicked this way comes

Sometimes they tie a thief to the tree
Sometimes I stare
Sometimes it's me"

The stormy sea becomes a reflection of loss and doubt as well as a metaphor for life, death, and our collective experience with the mysterious and primordial source of creation. In the midst of the storm a mysterious father figure in the "shade of a sailor" takes the helm of his ship.

"If a prayer today is spoken
Please offer it for me
When the bridge to heaven is broken
And you've lost on the wild wild sea"

The title track won a Grammy for Best Rock Song. After a drinking contest with the dark sea king who captures broken spirits of the townspeople lost at sea in 'the soul cages', Billy is urged to "swim into the light..."

"He dreamed of the ship on the sea
It would carry his father and he
To a place they could never be found
To a place far away from this town
A Newcastle ship without coals
They would sail to the island of souls"

'The Soul Cages' 
full album:

All songs written by Sting.

1. "Island of Souls"   6:41
2. "All This Time"   4:54
3. "Mad About You"   3:53
4. "Jeremiah Blues (Part 1)"   4:54
5. "Why Should I Cry for You"   4:46
6. "Saint Agnes and the Burning Train"   2:43
7. "The Wild Wild Sea"   6:41
8. "The Soul Cages"   5:51
9. "When the Angels Fall"   7:48

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