Songs From The Labyrinth

Songs From The Labyrinth

3.7 8
by Sting

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More than two decades into his solo career, Sting's musical explorations have already taken him farther afield than fans of his early work with the Police could have predicted. Even so, his latest venture comes as a surprise, and ultimately quite a pleasant one. On Songs from the Labyrinth, Sting reaches back


More than two decades into his solo career, Sting's musical explorations have already taken him farther afield than fans of his early work with the Police could have predicted. Even so, his latest venture comes as a surprise, and ultimately quite a pleasant one. On Songs from the Labyrinth, Sting reaches back across the centuries to interpret songs by John Dowland (1563-1626), one of the greatest composers of Elizabethan England. Dowland created some of the most potent melancholy in all of musical history; the deep emotions and dark beauty of songs like "Flow, My Tears" or "Come, Heavy Sleep" communicate themselves very clearly to a contemporary audience, and there's no cause to wonder at Sting's attraction to them. Part of this album's appeal is its simplicity: Sting's vocals are joined only by the exquisite lute playing of Edin Karamazov -- who also solos on some of Dowland's meditative lute pieces -- and are interspersed among some very brief spoken interludes from the composer's letters. Sting doesn't pretend to be a classical singer, but the eloquent melodies are intact, despite a gravelly grain and an occasional strain in his voice -- something that actually turns out to be ideally expressive when he sings a line like "Oh let me living die, till death do come," in the devastating closing song, "In Darkness Let Me Dwell." The only moments that feel really indebted to pop are Sting's multi-tracked vocal harmonies on "Fine Knacks for Ladies" and a few other songs that momentarily bring the Beach Boys to mind. Yet as the album progresses, you appreciate more and more how much Sting's pop talents and his very personal approach allow him to penetrate and animate the inner emotions and meanings of Dowland's timeless music.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - James Manheim
Casual pronouncements are made every so often that the lute songs (the lute is a plucked stringed instrument, an early cousin to the guitar) and madrigals of Elizabethan and Jacobean England were the popular music of their day. And Sting, who alludes to the likes of Vladimir Nabokov in his lyrics, is hardly uneducated in the legacy of fine arts, and he has a certain cerebral, inward sadness that matches the dominant mood of English music around 1600 well enough. Thus some might easily have thought it would be a short leap from Sting's own music to the lute songs of John Dowland (1563-1626). But the leap is anything but short, and Sting gets credit for having thought out fully the problems in making it. It is not just the issue of what pianist Katia Labèque, one of the classical musicians who introduced Sting to Dowland's music, called his "unschooled tenor" -- Dowland's songs are not really difficult. It is the great divide between rock (and other traditions ultimately rooted in Africa) and the European tradition: speaking in generalities, the former prizes "noise" -- sound extraneous to the pitch and to the intended timbre of an instrument or voice -- as a structural element, whereas in the latter it is strenuously eliminated. Sting's voice has plenty of "noise." The listener oriented toward classical music will object to its being there; the rock listener, noting that Sting is singing very quietly, may wonder why there isn't more of it. Why, then, does this album work well on the whole? The short answer is that Sting took 20 years to think about how to interpret the refined melancholy of Dowland songs like "Come, Heavy Sleep." His booklet notes tell the long story of how he happened to make this album, and it's quite an interesting one, involving a "labyrinth" of encounters with Labèque, with the Bosnian lutenist Edin Karamazov, who performs on this album, with a friend who gave Sting a lute inlaid with a labyrinth design based on a pattern in the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France (Sting later reproduced the maze in his garden at home), and finally with a Swiss voice teacher who schooled him in pitch precision and the occasional octave run. Sting constructs two crossover points between this temporally remote music and his popular audience. First, he intersperses the songs with selections from Dowland's letters. This has surely been done before, at Elizabethan dinners and the like, and for modern listeners it has the beneficial effect of situating Dowland's music at the center of the social and political life of its time. Sting's second crossover point is more radical: he replaces the melody line in a few of Dowland's verses with multitracked harmonies, apparently consisting entirely of his own voice. These sections appear rather randomly, but they do break up the texture in a way that suggests an additional dimension of modern perspective. Sting passes a key test for vocal music of any kind: he understands and means what he is singing. The real gloomfests among Dowland's songs -- like "Flow My Tears" and the final "In Darkness Let Me Dwell" -- lose none of their power in Sting's performances. And he brings something of his own sense of humor to the lighter ones; a certain smirk in his reading of "Come Again" suggests that he is aware an audience of Dowland's time would have heard the line "To see, to hear, to touch, to kiss, to die with thee again" as a sexual allusion. He sounds like himself, even while purging rock's blues-based treatment of pitch from his singing; he also takes a few turns on the large archlute. And Karamazov proves an ideal collaborator, creating a sharp, edgy tone that stands up to Sting's rough voice. In making Dowland's songs his own, Sting has accomplished something that really has never been done before, and perhaps he'll show some of his own fans that Renaissance music is more than an accompaniment for silly jousting competitions -- it is a labyrinth that leads us toward the roots of our own culture.
Rolling Stone - James Hunter
Sting tables his ponderous lower range and invests these crack tunes with skill and soul. This is not old music for new Jaguar drivers.
Gramophone - William Yeoman
Bizarre? Undoubtedly; but even more so is the fact that it actually works. Sting's readings are well considered and evocative...resulting in a rawness and emotional energy that's often lacking in more polished performances.... You'll not be left unmoved.
BBC Music Magazine - Barry Witherden
Anyone accustomed to performances by Peter Pears, Alfred Deller, James Bowman or Andreas Scholl may be taken aback by Sting’s husky delivery, but there is merit in the more intimate approach he adopts and he evidently understands the songs musically as well as lyrically.
Billboard - Gary Graff
It's a quiet listen and one recommended for the open-minded and classical-leaning among us.
La Scena Musicale - Norman Lebrecht
There is much to admire in [Sting's] approach - a keen feel for language, an acute musical intelligence.... Most of all, the sympathy between singer and song is vivid and pronounced.
Newark Star-Ledger - Bradley Bambarger
Sting has the measure of this music's soul as well as any early-music singer. His versions of such doleful songs as "Flow My Tears" are deeply moving.... This is a brave, beautiful album.
Buffalo News - Jeff Myers
'Songs From the Labyrinth' is the most nakedly musical, least commercial Sting recording since his first post-Police effort, 'The Dream of the Blue Turtles'.
Denver Post - Jon Denzel
Sting stays true to the phrasing of the originals, expertly switching between 30-second instrumentals and doleful laments of pop-song length.
Los Angeles Daily News - Steven Rosenberg
He's out on a limb here, in territory too dangerous for almost every other rock star out there. And danger is what true rock, and in this case Elizabethan pop, is all about.
Hartford Courant - Thomas Kintner
Sting smartly adapts his model to fit the material rather than vice versa, adhering to a traditional approach as his lithe tenor settles earnestly into the spare and somber 'Flow, my tears'.
The Oregonian - David Stabler
The more I played 'Songs From the Labyrinth', the more Sting's rough qualities grew on me.... Unvarnished singing suggests an emotional truth that grounds the music in unexpected ways.

Product Details

Release Date:
Deutsche Grammophon

Related Subjects


  1. Walsingham, song arranged for lute, P 67
  2. Can she excuse my wrongs, for 4 voices & lute (First Book of Songs)
  3. "Right honorable: as I have bin most bounde unto your honor..." (Letter
  4. Flow, my tears, fall from your springs, for 2 voices & lute (Second Boo
  5. Have You Seen but a White Lily Grow? for voice & lute
  6. "...Then in time passing Mr. Johnson died..." (Letter to Sir Robert Cec
  7. The King of Denmark, his Galliard, for lute, P 40
  8. The lowest trees have tops, for 4 voices & lute (Third Book of Songs)
  9. "...And accordinge as I desired ther cam a letter to me out of Germany.
  10. Fine knacks for ladies, for 4 voices & lute (Second Book of Songs)
  11. "...From thenc I went to the Landgrave of Hessen..." (Letter to Sir Rob
  12. Fantasy
  13. Come, heavy sleep, for 4 voices & lute (First Book of Songs)
  14. Forlorn Hope, fantasie for lute, P 2
  15. "...And from thence I had great desire to see Italy..." (Letter to Sir
  16. Come again, sweet love doth now invite, for 4 voices & lute (First Book
  17. Wilt thou unkind thus reave me of my heart, for 4 voices & lute (First
  18. "...After my departure I caled to mynde our conference..." (Letter to S
  19. Weep you no more, sad fountains, for 4 voices & lute (Third Book of Son
  20. My Lord Willoughby's Welcome Home, for lute, P 66
  21. Clear or cloudy sweet as Aprill showring, for 4 voices & lute (Second B
  22. " say that the Kinge of Spain is making great preparation..." (Le
  23. In darkness let me dwell, for voice, lute & bass viol (A Musicall Banqu

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Songs From The Labyrinth 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The lute playing is fabulous, but the vocals are weak.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is so different for Sting but quite nice indeed. These songs are very soothing as is Sting's voice always. The style reminds me of my college days of singing in a Madrigal group. It is a shame the Lute is not played more often. Thanks to Sting!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a gutsy, brilliant recording. Sting has taken us back in time to a period where music, poetry and magical instruments existed. This is a very daring project because our society, particularly our musical society, is not evolved enough to appreciate the beauty of this music from an era people today don't even think of, including the instruments, i.e. Lute and Archlute. This is a beautiful, intriguing, cd which awakens the senses and mind. Read the cd leaflet. Fascinating. Bravo to Sting!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Sting does a fair job on a few of the items but for the most part it's a sloppy bit of singing. His voice simply does not suit most of the music. If he had lessons before doing this he had a lousy teacher as this is not a professional performance. It is a shade less than amateur. I don't believe that this album should have been released.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The music was was wonderful. But I felt that I heard more applause than music. Not really worth the price. I already know sting is wonderful. I don't need to hear clapping to be convinced.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I believe this work is something Sting and anyone else involved are trying to forget. The music is OK but Sting voice is just terrible, as a result you just can't stand any song!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Anyone who knocks this, doesn't know music from the Elizabethan Era. These compositions are 400 years old and not meant to be spewed like most of today's rot. Too bad it's live, but otherwise, Sting's unusual voice lends itself this style, and the lute was phenomenal. This recording really shows Sting as an educated artist who is finally comfortable in his own skin. Do your homework THEN enjoy this wondrous work!
missroc More than 1 year ago
strongly recommend, nice musciality, unique material