It's hard to believe punk rock and Sting were ever uttered in the same sentence. The former Police captain has been a solo purveyor of highbrow, literate pop for so long it seems like lifetimes ago that he tossed off simple gems like ''Roxanne.'' Sure, he's still capable of coming up with catchy, uncomplicated trifles, like 1999's breezy ''Brand New Day.'' But his artistic maturity has come at the expense of an attribute crucial to great pop: a sense of humor.
Which brings us to Sacred Love, a CD purportedly about that trickiest of emotional states, L-U-V. As you might suspect, ol' sobersides has deep thoughts on the subject. ''Love is the child of an endless war/Love is an open wound still raw,'' he sings on ''Inside,'' the opener. Over a swirl of strings, he goes on to rant about how ''love is an angry scar...a violation, a mutilation, capitulation'' and ''annihilation,'' working up a nice head of steam that anyone who's ever been caught in the vortex of a relationship will relate to. On ''Whenever I Say Your Name,'' his erotically charged duet with Mary J. Blige, he unites the secular and the sacred with the phrase ''Whenever I say your name, I'm already praying.''
Unfortunately, not everything here is as immediately affecting. ''Send Your Love'' starts out with some gorgeous flamenco guitar flourishes and morphs into a world-beat vamp that, alas, fails to catch fire. Then there's ''Dead Man's Rope,'' another of those king-of-pain ballads that stumble along on a swampy bed of understated acoustic guitar and keyboards and could have you reaching for your Valium 'script.
If you're a fan, you'll likely find this a fine addition to his oeuvre; it's poetic, sophisticated, jazzy, and occasionally even funky. Still, you've gotta wish our man would lighten up sometimes. Next time out, Mr. Sumner, why not try taking a page from Paul McCartney's book and writing some silly love songs?