A cold, claustrophobic record, “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” picks meticulously over a grim situation – the interest of a young teacher in a much younger pupil. Sting’s director’s eye takes in staffroom dynamics, teen social hierarchies and the teacher’s own self-consciousness as he reaches in horror for the inevitable literary reference. Unlike many of Sting’s clunkers, the “Nabokov” lyric is in-character, and quite clever: the teacher’s avoidance of the fatal L-word is an attempt to duck the self-condemnation he knows is his due. Sting still sounds a little pleased with himself but it’s hardly a deal-breaker.
“Don’t Stand” is structured like a death ballad – fate hustling its characters towards the inevitable tragedy. Its build up is cruelly slow – that long intro the work of a band who know perfectly well that anything they produce will get playlisted. Its chorus is a spasm of irritable energy. But the song then turns away – we expect an end but don’t get one: instead we get a too-languid breakdown, the stuttering chorus again, and the record’s baleful energy drains away. It’s not that “Don’t Stand” needs to resolve its story – in fact it works better for not doing so – but it doesn’t need to hang around either.