King of Pain

Not long ago, Sting referred to the wildly successful Police Reunion Tour, which grossed roughly $350 million in 2007–08, as “an exercise in nostalgia” that was unlikely to be repeated. But that doesn’t mean the singer-songwriter is no longer interested in the past. Sting’s recent album and upcoming play — both called “The Last Ship” — reflect on his roots and the decline of the English shipbuilding town where he grew up. The play will debut in Chicago in June, as a warm-up to its Broadway premiere in the fall. To see the songs performed by the man who wrote them, however, check out “Sting: The Last Ship,” which airs on February 21, on PBS. Just don’t expect another return to New Wave. Although “The Last Ship” is Sting’s first album of original material in a decade, its rustic folk sound reaches back much further than that. The music is often haunting and melancholy, as are the lyrics about loss and aging (“When a man of my age shaves his face in the morning, who is it stares back and greets him?”) and the yearning for a simpler time. — John Birmingham


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