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Sting operation

The satirical newspaper the Onion once ran a commentary titled, “You Know, I Used To Be Cool Once.” The author: Sting. Ouch. That stung.

The piece wasn’t really written by Sting, of course, nor was it entirely fair.

In fact, we can easily make the opposite case – that Sting, who comes to the Spokane Arena on Monday, is one of those rare rock stars who has continued to experiment, grow and maintain a creative edge. (More on that later.)

Still, even Sting admirers have to admit the headline had an element of truth.

Back in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, Gordon Sumner (aka Sting) was as cool as any pop star alive. His band, the Police, was filling the airwaves with punk- and reggae-influenced tunes such as “Roxanne” and “Don’t Stand So Close To Me.” Sting and his bandmates managed the feat of being edgy and massively successful at the same time.

Then in the mid-1980s Sting went solo, discovered Lite Rock and crossed over into Adult Contemporary territory. He became about as cool as Bryan Adams and Rod Stewart, with whom he famously collaborated in the uncool No. 1 hit “All for Love” in the uncool 1993 movie “The Three Musketeers.”

Still, how important is “cool”? Despite a few lapses, Sting is one of the few pop stars who have stayed creative and popular into middle age (he’s 53) without completely selling out.

For instance, you can’t accuse Mr. Sumner of sticking with the same tired formula that originally made him famous. His first solo album, “The Dream of the Blue Turtles,” was a foray into the decidedly noncommercial realm of jazz. His backup band included Branford Marsalis and (briefly) Wynton Marsalis, two of the most respected jazzmen in the world.

Clearly, Sting was striving to push his music into the realm of art. The results, while not convincing to true jazzophiles, were at times brilliant. The album spawned two hits: “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” and “Fortress Around Your Heart.”

His next jazz-influenced album, “Nothing Like the Sun,” had a Brazilian tinge to it and outspoken (even strident) political opinions.

Then, with “The Soul Cages” in 1991, Sting took a turn toward the somber and introspective – not exactly a surefire formula for pop success. Still, it hit No. 2 on the charts in 1991 and spawned the hit song “All This Time.”

In 1993, he changed directions again with “Ten Summoner’s Tales,” a title derived from “The Canterbury Tales.” This had an English folk feel, and once again it found a willing audience. Two of its songs became pop hits: “If I Ever Lose My Faith In You” and the sonnet-like “Fields of Gold.”

Airplay and sales have been harder to come by in the last decade, but Sting has continued be a massively popular live draw and to make challenging and ambitious new music. His most recent CD, “Sacred Love,” has been billed as his response to 9-11 and to the runup to the Iraq war.

On Sting’s own Web site, the album is described as “a bold attempt to weave meaningful connections between the struggles within the souls of individual peoples and the larger events wracking our social and political worlds.”

This illustrates Sting’s continuing ambitions (as well as what many people consider an unfortunate tendency toward the pretentious).

However, on the Broken Music tour, which arrives in Spokane on Monday, we should be seeing a more down-to-earth Sting.

It’s described on a press release as an “all-new stripped-down tour.” Don’t expect strings and brass sections. Don’t even expect much in the way of keyboards. Sting will play bass, accompanied by two guitar players (Dominic Miller and Shane Fontayne) and a drummer (Josh Freese). And that’s it.

The Spokane stop will be only the third date on a 27-date tour. If a preview in L.A. on Monday was any indication, the set list will contain a lot of early classics such as “Roxanne,” “Message in a Bottle” and “Spirits in a Material World.”

In other words, it will be almost like a return to the simplicity of the Police days.

Remember? Back when Sting was cool?

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