70 of 71 people found the following review helpful
on November 30, 1999
Starting this review, I intended it to be an ode to my most cherished CD. Instead, I simply cannot find the words. The rich tapestry of music and lyrics that enfold the listener defy description. Words that other reviewers have used, like "hypnotic," "poetic," and "beautiful" are right on target. This album takes you along on the artist's introspective tour of grief, love, and missed opportunities, and leaves you with a sense of peace and - if not understanding - at least contentment resulting from having the courage to undertake the journey in the first place.
You'll find everything here, from the sweeping "Island of Souls," "Wild, Wild Sea," and "When the Angels Fall;" to the heart-breaking "Why Should I Cry For You?;" the catchy "All This Time" and the harder, pop-ish "Soul Cages;" the elegantly simple acoustic guitar of "St. Agnes and the Burning Train" and the jazzy "Jeremiah's Blues, Pt. 1;" and the stunning depth of lyrics and imagery of "Mad About You."
Evidenced by my above descriptions, the music style swings from the sounds of Northumbrian pipes reminescent of the sea, to ensemble jazz, to solo acoustic guitar, to lush string arrangements. There's really something here for every music fan, but that fan has to be prepared for the overall somber tone of the album. This is my favorite album to listen to after the end of a hectic day, as it ultimately leaves you with a sense of peace. For sheer musicianship and sonic quality, this album deserves at least a listen. For the depth of involvement the music inspires in the listener, this album deserves a permanent place in any collection.
31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on February 7, 2000
...because it absolutely transcends the idea that it should be "ranked", among Sting's albums let alone everyone else's. I completely agree with the many people here who say this isn't just their favorite Sting album, it's their favorite album in their library. The first time I heard this album, shortly after its release, I was absolutely transfixed from start to finish. "Island of Souls" sets the scene, a story of childhood escapism and tragedy that is told as much by the mournful wind instruments as by the words. From there, the listener is taken on a tour of the various emotions and experiences that shape a man's life when he was born in a "workingman's home." Every song on here is utterly without flaws: I rank "The Wild Wild Sea" as the absolute pinnacle of what a songwriter should aspire to. It is perfect. I don't usually praise albums unreservedly, and my love for this album may just be a reflection of the state of mind I was in when I first heard it as a semi-tortured 17-year-old. But even today I find that its melodies and lyrics are timeless. And now that I'm kind of a grown-up, I understand the lyrics on a level that is more parallel to the original messages. It's just a perfect album.
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2004
After erasing doubts that he could float in a post-Police world with two solid solo albums, Sting entered a period of grief-induced writer's block caused by the death of his father, whose approval and affection Sting had always sought but never received. It took finally facing up to the ghost of his father, and making amends with him. This is what we see on The Soul Cages, a brilliant marriage of pain, regret, sorrow and finally emotional liberation. This albums reads and plays like a beautiful, sad novel; one that takes more than one read to really understand. With Sting's father as the main thematic focal point, Northumbrian Pipes open "Island of Souls," where the story of Billy and his shipbuilding father is told. This long elegy subtly displays Sting's musical prowess, with a strange time signature (classic Sting) and a dark, brooding vocal. Next is "All This Time," one of Sting's most popular songs. It also tells the story of a man and his father, and the gap between them, but it is veiled and never obvious. This album can be very mysterious and difficult to uncover, but it is most definitely worth the effort. "Mad About You" and "Jeremiah Blues" stray from the father/son theme, but provide more of Sting's brilliant arrangements and storytelling (Mad About You is about King David and his desire to be with Bathsheba). The next track highlights the emotional climax and despair of the album: "Why Should I Cry For You?" is by far the most moving song here. The depth of the lyrics (full of nautical references and symbolism regarding his father and he) will move the listener, and it is here that you begin to truly understand the struggle inside the songwriter. This song is so heavy that Sting has admitted he placed the beautiful instrumental "St. Agnes and the Burning Train" after it to give listeners somewhat of a mental break. Then comes the final stretch of "The Wild Wild Sea," "The Soul Cages," and "When The Angels Fall," which feature brilliantly dark and mysterious melodies and equally thought-provoking lyrics. The album ends on a positive note for the singer, whose vocal timbre and lyrical sentiment indicate that the demons have been conquered and the battle with the ghost is over. The circle has been completed by the end of the album, with Sting introducing his own children to his deceased father in a way that is both sad and hopeful. This album is most definitely not easy listening, and it is not for those who dislike lyrics that you must think about. These are the reasons I love the album, however. The most powerful line and the climax of the album comes in the bridge of "Why Should I Cry For You?" where Sting sings to his father: "Sometimes I See Your Face, The Stars Seem To Lose Their Place." Take a close listen to that and see if you can keep yourself from becoming involved in the beautiful story behind this album. His autobiography, "Broken Music" is a perfect companion to this album, and after reading it the album has taken on a much deeper meaning and significance for me. Hope you like it as much as I do!
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on May 19, 2000
Written at a time of great personal tragedy (the loss of his father) Sting's intensely moving autobiographical album is about as personal and intimate as you're likely to get from anybody, nevermind a major recording artist.
This album's reviews were always going to be fairly polarised. The combination of complex self-indulgent lyrics, self-referential melodies repeating through the tracks, and lush, expensive-sounding production was always going to be either hated or adored.
The opener - "Island of Souls" sets the scene beautifully, of windswept northern England, on the banks of the Tyne (Sting is from Newcastle) - you can almost see the mist on the North Sea rolling in to the shipyard, and the "workmen suspended like flies". The theme of northern England and water started with this song runs deep through the whole album, reaching its almost overwhelming crescendo during "Wild Wild Sea" (which has some of the horniest damn chords ever...). Catharsis is achieved during the fantastic "Soul Cages" where the overtone becomes decidedly Faustian as the narrator fights for his soul with "the King Of The Ninth World, the twisted son of the fog-bell's toll. In each and every lobster cage, a tortured human soul". It is during this track that the emotions run highest and the despair becomes defiant anger at the injustice of life. The track "Soul Cages" is surprisingly savage, and certainly the most aggressive track Sting has ever put together - the opening guitar-riff is stunning, giving the track pace, power and vengeance. The subtle refrain from the opening track returns, adding an almost concerto-feel to the album, bringing the story together. Catharsis achieved, the closing track shows the narrator reaching reconciliation, with his loss, and with the future. To lighten the whole thing up, Sting bids us "Goodnight" at the end - he knows we'll listen to it in the dark...
It's a difficult album to get to like; complex, introverted and dark. Even the more up-beat asides to the story have sinister overtones, and are not as simple as they seem... This is an album for Sting fans - you need to persevere to appreciate this - but, if you are a fan of his less commercial-sounding work, then this will not disappoint.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on July 15, 2006
"Sadness is a good thing, too," says Sting, and he proves it on THE SOUL CAGES. It's an album which has little in common with any of the master songwriter's other releases. For one thing, it's somber and cold, but that's due to what inspired it: the death of Sting's father, of whom he was not too fond. Indeed, fathers show up often in the lyrics of these songs, as do ships and the sea. Despite the unrest which inspired the album, THE SOUL CAGES has an aura of complete peace surrounding it which is wonderfully soothing.
From the first song, the misty "Island of Souls", you know this won't be like anything else Sting has recorded. "All This Time" and "Mad About You" are the closest things to pop songs THE SOUL CAGES has to offer. The songs here are the most album-oriented of Sting's work - meaning that to really understand and appreciate them, they must be heard all at once on the album rather than seperately. This, along with Sting's declaration that the album was "introspective", probably aided THE SOUL CAGES in becoming one of Sting's less financially-successful albums - which is truly a pity.
Every song here is magnificent. They each create a feeling of isolation and loneliness, sorrow and pain, and yet they wind up feeling more peaceful than any others I've ever heard. The exception is the instrumental "Saint Agnes And The Burning Train", a very interesting flamenco track which no one would guess is a Sting composition. For the most part, the songs here are relatively calm, like a winter breeze; only on the title track does the music really explode, thanks to immense, booming guitars. The rest of the album contains tight, strong drumming, atmospheric guitars, and smooth keyboards; occasionally, Kathryn Tickell's northumbrian pipes or Branford Marsalis' saxophone shows up. Unlike Sting's previous albums, this one feels rather folksy. Gone is the jazzy rock of THE DREAM OF THE BLUE TURTLES and ... NOTHING LIKE THE SUN; Sting's "Blue Turtles Band" had departed by this point. Even had they not, though, it wouldn't have mattered; there's no room for Sting's upbeat pop compositions here.
Despite all this talk of the album being wintery, introspective, cold, don't think that the album is gloomy. It's not. It's beautiful, emotional, more powerful than any of Sting's other albums. Sting has said that there was such a long period of time between ... NOTHING LIKE THE SUN and THE SOUL CAGES because, after his father's death, he experienced a severe case of writer's block. The songs he finally did write - those from this album - were written for him, not for anyone else. Listening to them, it's clear that Sting was completely unaware that anyone else even existed while writing these songs. And that's not a bad thing at all.
THE SOUL CAGES was more than just a way for Sting to move on after his father's death ("Why Should I Cry For You"). It's a masterpiece of reflection on life, death, and love, all set against the backdrop of the sea. It is an immensely powerful and moving album, eclipsing any of Sting's other works. THE SOUL CAGES is, by far, Sting's greatest achievement.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on December 3, 1999
Without exception, this is the album I can play over and over and never tire of hearing. Although I like all of Sting's work, I consider _The Soul Cages_ to be the high point of his musical career, and perhaps my favorite album among any that I own. Although each song is excellent and self-contained in its own right, the album's enduring strength lies in its thematic unity.
The picture _The Soul Cages_ paints is one in which a hero struggles against a large, unfeeling universe and emerges victorious. Whether it is merely a moral victory or a mastery of the elements is not always clear. But in each track there is a story, and each of these stories belongs to some larger saga of triumph. I might even go so far as to identify the ocean with the forces of adversity, but this is probably reading too much into it.
Sting himself describes the album as a sort of eulogy for his father, for whom he had never allowed himself to mourn -- instead choosing to drown himself in work, hoping to forget. When his creative process became blocked, Sting had to spend a great deal of time in quiet reflection, and the long-hidden emotions came out to become some of his greatest work. Every indication of his is that _The Soul Cages_ is about grieving and death -- the entire process, bound up in pain and confusion, but ultimately moving onwards. Knowledge of the artist's motivation gives me a new appreciation for the work, but I am still given to believe that its significance transcends its origins. It's the sort of album one can only write once in one's lifetime.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 11, 2006
Released in 1990, roughly four years after the Police unceremoniously parted ways, "The Soul Cages" was Sting's third solo effort, the one that made me realize that his former band was never getting back together. This album showed that he had changed and grown so much as a songwriter, arranger, and performer that going back to the Police would have just been a step backward. Steeped in melancholy and loss against the backdrop of the ocean and water's regenerative powers, "The Soul Cages" remains Sting's most complete statement, an ode to his father (who had recently passed) and a masterful combination of sadness and affirmation. "All This Time" and "Mad About You" are individual masterpieces, but the album is best experienced as a whole. A crowning and stylistically uncategorizable achievement that, for all the brilliance he's shown since, I still don't think Sting has topped.
P.S. 2007: Well, apparently they were gonna get back together if someone offered them enough money. This is still a great album, though, crassly commercial reunion or not.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on October 6, 1999
This is the album that started it all for me. I have been a Sting fan since this record came out, when I was eleven. It's been one of my main soundtracks for half my life. It's an album that must be listened to from start to finish. There isn't a weak track. "All This Time" has Sting's best lyric ever, and some of the most unusual and engaging music. "Mad About You" was probably my first favourite Sting song, unless it was "All This Time," and "Why Should I Cry For You?" is a strong contender for his most moving song ever--the lyrics are heartbreaking, and when he sings "Sometimes I see your face/Stars seem to lose their place," I inevitably get a lump in my throat or tears in my eyes. "Soul Cages" is one of Sting's few true "rock" songs, with another fascinating lyric, and the album ends with his epic, "When the Angels Fall." The songs I haven't mentioned are equally wonderful. This is one of the greatest concept albums ever released. It might have particular resonance for someone who has lost their father or someone else close to them. It is also Sting's most English album, being about the sea and Newcastle. Pick up a book by Joseph Conrad, put on The Soul Cages, and lose yourself. Oh, and if you love this album, check out Sting's new one, Brand New Day--the whole CD is superb, in my opinion, but you should at least like "Ghost Story," which apparently is about Sting's father and is very much a Soul Cages song.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on June 20, 2005
When I first heard this CD, it was about three years after my father's death. The allegorical song lyrics, written in grief after Sting's own father's death, perfectly embodied the mourning, loss, anger and grief I was feeling. I'm neither a poet nor a musician, but the words and haunting musical melodies could have been written and composed by me in my time of sadness, so close to the mark they were. It is, as noted by the other reviewers, a dark and heavily emotional disc and you will find few, if any, catchy and upbeat "radio-friendly" tunes on it. What you will find, if you listen once and continue to listen many times, is beauty, loss, redemption and love. I've listened to this disc so many times I can't even begin to count. I wore out two tape versions and one CD prior to owning my current one. My favorite song, and to me the most emotionally devastating, is Why Should I Cry For You...just listen and you will understand its power. I don't think there's anything to add that hasn't already been written by the reviewers here at Amazon.com. Simply put, this CD is a work of genius, and a testimony to the power of love, be it for a parent, a lover or a friend. Five stars and one of the CDs I'd have to have if stranded away from civilization.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on May 2, 2005
For almost three years at the close of the 1980s, Sting went through what he himself has called his period of writer's block. Following the passing of his father, he had apparently found it difficult to "find his voice." In 1991, however, he finally overcame his demons and produced "Soul Cages." When it was released, I was not pleased with its content, maybe because at the time I was looking for Sting to maintain the high energy kind of compositions that characterized much of his earlier work. Whatever the case, I found it unappealing and whimsically cast it aside. Years later, hearing "All This Time" on a compilation of his best hits, however, I was prompted to go back to the album and reconsider my first impressions. On second listen, I discovered a gem that I had originally failed to appreciate. Although they are admittedly dark and mysterious, taken together, the songs comprise a poetic, autobiographical allegory. Somber and even heavy in mood, they contain a substantive depth which simply requires more patience and attention to digest. Ultimately, the listener will discover that amid the multi-layers of sound and imagery lies a message of visceral intensity- of labor and love, of betrayal and even death. In retrospect, it also seems clear that this album forms the artistic bridge from Sting's Police-esque song writing--- that had continued, despite the jazz accents, to find its way into his solo work--- to his more mature efforts in "Ten Summoner's Tales." His CD "Nothing Like the Sun" had provided hints of a new direction, but then came the 3-year lull. In "Cages" he found the path once again, along the way experimenting with unorthodox techniques (uncommon instrumentation, odd time signatures) and developing a more sophisticated story-telling knack. To put it another way: had there been no Soul Cages, there would have been no Ten Summoner's Tales. He needed to work through to the light, to engage in this musical catharsis, in order to reach the next level. With that in mind, this CD takes on even greater consequence: it marks a watershed of originality. Whether you listen to it for that reason or not, the Soul Cages nonetheless stands on its own merits, and I submit that it will ultimately move you. It just may take more than one playing to do so.