Let's see... what's left? Since the last Police album, in 1983, Sting has been through an esoteric jazz phase (1985's The Dream of the Blue Turtles), done time as an artist-activist (the 1988 Amnesty International tour), and suffered through a period of mourning (The Soul Cages) that had all the exuberance of a root canal.
Could it be time for him to try pop again? The 11 terse, vividly imagined gems on Ten Summoner's Tales prove that the joys of a simple song are not yet out of his reach. Unlike, say, Paul McCartney, Sting still understands the rare alchemy of the radio hit, still crafts choruses designed to lodge in the mass consciousness. And the new album has plenty of catchy, unburdened moments the strutting ''Heavy Cloud, No Rain,'' the fierce roadhouse shuffle ''She's Too Good for Me,'' and even the medium-tempo first single, ''If I Ever Lose My Faith in You,'' which is illuminated by a surprisingly resolute lead vocal.
Sting being Sting, he returns on his own terms to the punchy, accessible music he has avoided of late. The effortless refrains of the love-at-first-sight ode ''Saint Augustine in Hell'' and the courtship drama ''Seven Days'' affirm what's really good about pop, while sudden tempo changes and other composerly touches dispense with (or at least circumvent) its constricting formulas. A