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"Truth hits everybody"

Class B

Main Category: Smart Pop
Also applicable: Pop Rock, Reggae, Punk/Grunge
Starting Period: The Punk/New Wave Years
Also active in: The Divided Eighties



Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of a Police fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Police fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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The Police are probably the best bet for anybody to crush my ongoing theory about rock reaching its ultimate peak in the late Sixties/early Seventies - of course, 'one chain don't make no prison', but then again, the Police were only the best representative of the entire New Wave movement of the late Seventies, a musical current that proceeded to seriously rejuvenate and re-enforce the withering branches of the rock'n'roll tree, pardon the countless cliches. Too bad it didn't really last long and in the long run, turned out to be the "silver peak" itself rather than the beginning of a total reconstruction system of musical values, but you never can tell how it goes, doncha? Music is an unpredictable bitch.

Anyway, speaking of the Police, in a certain way, funny as it is, I find the band a certain kind of late Seventies equivalent to all the three 'top bands' of the Sixties. Of course, technologically speaking, the music of the Police eventually grew from a clever and original mix of punk, reggae and power pop, to which the boys then added some ethnobeat, some funk and some adult contemporary so as not to stagnate. In other words, their influences were not really all that different from what influenced any other New Wave band at the time. Yet they were cleverer and more astute than most of their rivals - clutching innovation and bold ventures into the unknown in their left hand and commercial potential and accessibility in their right one. And that might also have something to do with the analogy at the beginning of this paragraph.

The Police were equivalent to the Stones in that they understood the vast potential of unnerving, precise, "amateur-professional" playing - from a technical view, the Police were more skilled at playing their instruments, not to mention the importance they really attributed to technical skill, than most of their contemporaries. Stewart Copeland's amazing drumming is what comes to mind first, of course: no other drummer at the time could be that inventive with his cymbals and his hi-hat, and Stu's drumming on the first four albums (unfortunately, a bit toned down on Synchronicity) alone is worth making you rush to the stores and buy all of them in one roll. That said, Sting's talents as a bass player have always been overshadowed by his frontman persona and songwriting - the man's actually a bass marvel of the McCartney/Wyman variety, using the bass as a rhythm or lead instrument whenever possible. And Andy Summers, the oldest and most 'experienced' member of the band (not everybody knows that he was even a member of Eric Burdon's New Animals in the late Sixties!), while he was always intentionally overshadowed by the others (remember, these were the days of punk aesthetics when the guitar was not supposed to be the ruler of the world supreme), was still professional enough to be capable of both a mean riff and a mean solo - check out his soloing on 'So Lonely' and 'Peanuts' for proof.

The Police were also equivalent to the Who in that they understood all the potential of a 'minimalistic' approach (guitar/bass/drums) and used it with absolute wisdom. A Police song, especially from the early stages, is probably not that hard to master on your own: the melodies are pretty simple, be they punkish or poppish or reggaeish. That's their strength - genius melodies without any excessive chords. Another important analogy is that the Police, like the Who, had their two periods - the "youthful rave-up" period of 1978-79 and the "serious grown-up" period of 1981-83 (Zenyatta Mondatta is more of a transition album in between the two). Thus, just like with the Who, there are those who prefer the early classics, calling stuff like Synchronicity pretentious, overblown, dull bollocks, and those who endorse the latter, saying that the earliest albums are immature and too sparse for their tastes. (Frankly speaking, I haven't personally met any fans from the second group, but since Synchronicity is objectively the most popular album by the band, I guess there must be at least some people of that breed).

Me, I don't personally care for that discussion, because this is where the Beatles analogy comes in: the Police did not do filler. Yeah, I understand this is a pretty controversial statement, but it's dang oh so true. The Police only had five albums out - due to acute personality clashes, they could not really carry on after 1983 (another Beatles comparison! serious personality clashes are bound to happen in great bands mostly); but out of these five albums, I could count the 'filler' tunes on the fingers of one hand. Both Sting and Stewart Copeland were accomplished songwriters - Copeland's songs often tend to be dismissed, but actually, the man had an equally fine pop sensibility with Sting, he just didn't have Sting's, er, uh, scope shall we say; yet his tunes often act as wonderful lightweight breathes in between Sting's serious stuff. Sting, of course, takes the lion's share anyway, and one thing I could never accuse him of is negligence: no Sting song within the Police catalog is without its hook, not even later Sting-solo-resemblant stuff like 'Tea In The Sahara', and while it's perfectly understandable that many people have a lot to scold within the Police catalog, I think it's only a testament to the band's legacy that every one of the band's five albums has at least some supporters. What is the best record the Police ever made? Some will say Outlandos D'Amour, because it's youthful and fresh and raw. Maybe Reggatta De Blanc? It's technically immaculate and has no obvious 'sags', besides, it's the best place to watch their 'white reggae' schtick. Then again, Zenyatta Mondatta has both the catchy poppy side and the innovative instrumentals. And Ghost In The Machine shows a successful mastery of modern technologies, plus it's funky and God knows what else. And Synchronicity? Why, that's the one with all the radio hits on it!

And let's not forget the actual contribution of the Police to this musical world of ours. Where Brian Eno took electronica, New Age and added some bizarre pop hooks to the entire deal to make it artsy yet somewhat more accessible than usual, the Police went a step further and cross-bred ambient textures and ethnic beats with basic pop melodies and intelligent socio-politico-philosophical lyrics. The music of the Police is hardly any less 'artsy' and 'intelligent' than their influences; yet they also managed to make it totally accessible. Simply put, I can't imagine anybody listening to a Police album and saying something like 'how can anybody take pleasure in this stuff?' (I'm speaking of people who have at least some interest in rock music, of course). And that's saying something about a band that never really stooped to intentionally fit the lowest common denominator. And that's another argument in favour of the Beatles analogy.

That's not saying the Police were absolutely perfect, of course. No. The most significant argument is lack of diversity; the band never really cared for that value, and most of the records, at least the early ones, sound pretty uniform. And they were so keen on developing the 'new style' that whenever they tried something in the 'old one', they fell flat - 'Born In The Fifties' is one song that shows how the band should never even have tried writing something in the 'classic rock' stylistics. Another little juggle is that Sting's persona is certainly not for anybody; even I sometimes get tired of his preachiness and self-importance even within the Police boundaries (and I'm not even mentioning his solo career). Copeland's silly humor is simply not enough to outbalance that angle. All of these are minor complaints, yet I think they explain (together with the fact that five albums is still a rather minor amount of total output) why I haven't dared gracing the band with a five-star rating. Yet undoubtedly, the Police are my all-time favourite post-1975 band, and a rock collection without all the five Police albums in it is simply a terrifying thing. Not to mention that all of the five records, together with B-sides, live versions and several other rarities have been wisely packaged together in the glorious Message In A Boxset, which makes it even easier to get that stuff together. Now on to the reviews, since I already gave out all the information on the line-up.



Year Of Release: 1978
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 12

An album that makes the transition from punk to white reggae to masoko tanga in the blink of an eye.

Best song: SO LONELY

Track listing: 1) Next To You; 2) So Lonely; 3) Roxanne; 4) Hole In My Life; 5) Peanuts; 6) Can't Stand Losing You; 7) Truth Hits Everybody; 8) Born In The 50's; 9) Be My Girl - Sally; 10) Masoko Tanga.

If it's 1978, you're a new band and you wanna make your impact on the artistic scene, you just have to begin your first record with a punk song. The Police were actually never a punk band, although for some reason some people I know do call this a 'punk' album. Just because it begins with 'Next To You', which is the closest the band ever came to punk, but it's still not quite punk - maybe Copeland bashes away like mad and Sting does his best to rave like an angry young punker (which he certainly isn't as good at as he is at sounding like a relaxed young reggae worshipper), but the actual guitar melody, not to count the cute catchy refrain, are anything but punk.

Which doesn't mean the song is bad! One of the few bands in existence that considered it a dishonour to do 'filler' tracks, the Police make their first album tight and so consistent it hurts. Maybe one or two songs on here don't stand out as much as the rest, but that only serves to highlight the majority of the other songs. And while we're at it, other "fast rockers" here include the hilarious playful 'Peanuts', with a head-spinning refrain and a lightning-speed guitar solo from former Animal Andy Summers... before the song suddenly does an avantgardish twist and includes a weird dissonant sax solo, after which comes back to normal. But if you wanna hear the Police in a more serious mood, contemplate the irresistable 'Truth Hits Everybody', the rocker to end all rockers - I don't really know how many fast rockers I've seen on MTV have modelled themselves after the 'punch' of this song and failed. 'Truth hits everybody, truth hits everyone' - simple as that, but don't forget the little bit of negligent 'whoah-whoah' vocal harmony in the chorus, it's delicious little details like that which make the grade! As well as the solemn toll of the bell - whose idea was that?

Of course, it's not these songs that everybody knows from the album. Everybody knows 'Roxanne', the most famous ode to a prostitute in the whole world. The thing that strikes me the most about the song is how Copeland and Summers are playing in such obvious disunison during the verses and it still comes out all right. By the way, contrary to rumours, 'Roxanne' is not in reggae tempo... as Sting himself confessed, it's actually a tango. Hear that? These guys came out on the scene, unknown and ragged and all, and successfully tricked the whole world into taking tango for reggae! If this fact alone isn't enough to convince you that the Police are the greatest rock band to appear on the scene after 1975, I don't know what else will.

'So Lonely' is reggae, of course (the basic rhythm copped from Marley's 'No Woman No Cry'), that is, until Sting's painful wailings about his fate and his feelings climax in the frantic 'so lonely, so lonely...' refrain. And hey, is there anybody else out there who thinks that the last verse of the song, with Sting's rabid 'I feel so lonely... so lonely, lonely, lonely, lo...' is the greatest tension-building moment in the entire Police catalogue? No wonder Bob Marley himself appreciated the band; their being able to capture the reggae spirit so fine would suggest such an issue.

Other highlights include the bouncy, rhythmic... wait, scratch that, everything the Police did was bouncy and rhythmic. 'Can't Stand Losing You', though, is maybe the most bouncy song on here, due to Sting's throbbing, blub-blub-blubbing bassline, and the one song to feature a moody, echoey midsection. I'm also quite partial to the paranoid 'Hole In My Life', which is so desperate and aggressive in its simplicity that no sane person can resist it - it's a wonder, though, that the song actually includes a bunch of really cool vocal twists a la Beatles (cf. particularly the midsection) and even a descending guitar line a la 'Sunny Afternoon'. Others would just contend themselves with the basic grim groove.

Finally, the album closer 'Masoko Tanga' shows that the Police could display great chops in the 'world beat' department from the very very beginning - this style would reach its peak on Zenyatta Mondatta, of course, but 'Masoko Tanga' is certainly no worse than any selected instrumental on that album. Mr Summers plays just a supportive role here - the emphasis is on the rhythm section, but oh what a rhythm section. For some reason, Sting rarely displays his cool bass chops; 'Masoko Tanga' is one of the few moments in the Police catalogue where you can really understand how much the guy is underrated as a bass player. And Stewart Copeland is Stewart Copeland. Hey, does the man have African blood in him?

So if there are any flaws on the album at all, it's only (a) that many of these songs, good as they are, still don't stand the competition with later Police classics (after all, there were bands who could do 'Next To You', but there wasn't anybody who could do 'Don't Stand So Close To Me'), and (b) a couple of the songs are indeed sub-par: 'Born In The 50's' isn't bad melodically, but the lyrical message and the arrogance of the number are kinda dumb, almost fit for a generic arena rocker, and 'Be My Girl - Sally', about Andy Summers falling in love with an inflatable doll (too much Bryan Ferry listening, Andy?), is hilarious as long as it's music, but I don't think the narrative interruption is funny at all. Experimental, maybe, but... eh...

In all other respects, though, Outlandos D'Amour is really cool to listen to, and for many bands of the epoch it would have been a crowning masterpiece - it is nothing short of a miracle that the Police's next two records each improved on each other. Take this one as the band's Please Please Me.



Year Of Release: 1979
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 13

Is this really "white reggae"? More like "cosmic-fuelled pop" to me.


Track listing: 1) Message In A Bottle; 2) Reggatta De Blanc; 3) It's Alright For You; 4) Bring On The Night; 5) Deathwish; 6) Walking On The Moon; 7) On Any Other Day; 8) The Bed's Too Big Without You; 9) Contact; 10) Does Everyone Stare; 11) No Time This Time.

Simply put, this is a great record. Did it save rock? No, it didn't, but for a short time, it kept rock alive. Let me clarify myself: Reggatta De Blanc was without a slightest doubt the greatest album of 1979, barely edging out the Talking Heads' Fear Of Music and... and... nothing else. (Let's not mention The Wall here, okay? We're not talking dinos). If the Police debut already established them as full-grown, mature artists from the very beginning, then Reggatta De Blanc has the band coming into their own. Seriously now, is there anything in the world that resembles the general musical style of this album? Nothing.

For me, Reggatta De Blanc is also a great example of how an album cover is able to fit in the general mood of the record. The grim, blueish overtones of the (rather simplistic) cover immediately remind one both of the 'night' ('Bring On The...') and of the 'moon' ('Walking On The...'). This is not a depressing or a morose record at all, yet it always gives the feeling of something slightly otherworldly - and yet it is not exactly sci-fi rock. The Police certainly take off, but they don't go very far - they're not Syd Barrett and they're not even Brian Eno. They are floating in mid-air, waving their hands (and drumsticks) at you, inviting you to take a walk on the moon or something like that. And the major highlights of the album make even the simpler and more realistic songs on here acquire that 'mystical blueish tint'. Is 'It's Alright For You' a simple, throwaway punkish number? No! It isn't! It fully fits the mood, and actually, before somebody else started drawing my attention to the fact that it is, indeed, a punk number, I never even noticed that.

Certainly, the album's two major classics, 'Message In A Bottle' and 'Walking On The Moon', overshadow almost everything else in terms of songwriting quality and epic stance. They're overplayed for sure, or maybe they're not overplayed (they should be anyway), but who gives a damn when both of them are solidly in the Top 10 New Wave songs ever written? Copeland's drumming on 'Walking On The Moon' alone is able to guarantee the song absolute immortality, but when it's coupled with Summers' magic chord (the echoey 'BA-ba-m-m-m-mmmm...' that is repeated throughout the song, yet I can never get enough of it) and Sting's high vocals, it reaches complete perfection. And 'sending out an S.O.S.'? Hmm?

Okay, let's concentrate on the lesser stuff. As somebody who's deeply convinced of the Police being rock's greatest musical outfit since the 'Golden Age', I find it useless to bitch about whether there is or there isn't any filler on here - some of the tunes might be considered "filler" by the band's standards, just as some of the Beatles' tunes might be considered "filler" by their standards, but they're all good. The only tune which hardly does anything for me is Copeland's 'On Any Other Day'; it's pretty funny, but sounds rather scattered and lacks a distinct hookline as opposed to everything else. Yes, everything else does have distinct hooklines, including the rest of Copeland's stuff. Chris Welch may hate the guy, dismissing ninety percent of his compositions, but how can one really dismiss 'Contact', when that rumbling bassline and deep booming vocals in the verses gotta be the scariest moment on the whole record?

I do agree with the critics, however, that Copeland's third song on here, 'Does Everyone Stare', is radically different from the rest of the endless groove and is based more on German cabaret melodies than "white reggae". But it's nice and catchy anyway, and my golden rule #1 is this: if a song is good, it's good. Who cares if it disrupts a 'perfectly flowing' album? If it is really good, you'll get used to it anyway; if you can't get used to it, it wasn't that good in the first place. The Police might have inserted a doo-wop number in between 'Bring On The Night' and 'Deathwish' for all I care; if it were good, you wouldn't hear me complaining.

And the rest? 'Reggatta De Blanc' is a wonderful instrumental that excellently showcases the Police as a band (well, okay, they all excellently showcase the Police as a band, but here, you won't have Sting vocals taking you away from the instrumental prowess of the band members). It rocks and swings, and while my rough ear actually perceives the number as one of the least reggae-influenced tracks on the record, the drive and atmospherics are undeniable. What the hell is "white reggae", anyway? We didn't have no friggin' "white blues", at least, we who don't invent this term as a scarecrow for Eric Clapton fans; why do we need a "white reggae", then? Never mind...

'It's Alright For You' is, like I already mentioned, a punkish leftover from the last record, but like I also mentioned, it doesn't really sound all that punkish in the context of the record. 'Bring On The Night' is a moody and graceful reggae ballad, graced by that wonderful Sting chorus, and 'The Bed's Too Big Without You' is more of the same. 'Deathwish', the only "group" composition, rocks pretty hard utilising complex tempo changes, and after all the 'weird' Copeland numbers, the album closes on a suitable note, with the speedy super-energetic 'No Time This Time'. Copeland's drumming is at his all-time best on the track, and Sting's throbbing bass runs are breathtaking, plus Mr Summers throws in the best guitar solo on the whole record (which is surprisingly mediocre anyway - Andy was never that good at lead playing). But the best part are, of course, Sting's wild wails on the chorus...

If there's anything that mars Reggatta and prevents it from getting the highest possible rating, it's a frustrating lack of diversity. Sure, the Police have developed a sound that's totally unique, but there's just too few sides of that sound explored on the album. Every song has its distinct hooks, but after a while they all start kinda floating together; simply put, the band's bag o' tricks here is a wee bit limited. This is not an accusation - like so many other revolutionary albums, Reggatta De Blanc is, basically, so revolutionary that it hurts, in the literal sense. That said, it is still a great album, coming from one of rock's greatest bands, and the defect would be corrected on the next record anyway.



Year Of Release: 1980
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 14

Mmm... how could I explain that? This is, simply put, the 'Revolver' of the Police. Too bad they didn't have their Sgt Pepper...

Best song: just about anything bar the instrumentals, and even these are great

Track listing: 1) Don't Stand So Close To Me; 2) Driven To Tears; 3) When The World Is Running Down You Make The Best Of What's Still Around; 4) Canary In A Coalmine; 5) Voices Inside My Head; 6) Bombs Away; 7) De Do Do Do De Da Da Da; 8) Behind My Camel; 9) Man In A Suitcase; 10) Shadows In The Rain; 11) The Other Way Of Stopping.

Oh well, this is the record that holds some of my personal records. Not only do I consider this to be the best Police record ever, this is also the best New Wave record ever, and quite possibly, the best record ever recorded by a 'fresh' artist after rock's 'golden era', i.e. the best album recorded over the last twenty five years at least. This, however, only refers to the aspect of 'brilliant musical texture': if you're looking for a deep message, you'd better be off with your London Calling or your Joshua Tree or your OK Computer, which are all solid records but come nowhere near the sheer innovative magnificence of the Police. Oh well, then again, I could seriously question the Beatles' albums as to what concerns 'deep message' - Zenyatta is hardly 'shallower' than any given Fab Four creation.

In fact, comparisons with the Beatles aren't entirely unjustified: Zenyatta is the kind of record that really strikes you more or less in the same nerve centers as does listening to the Beatles' classic mid-Sixties output. In the way that you can't really formulate what is so great about this stuff... but it sure is. Creatively, this was the Police's ultimate peak, where everything seems to come together and gel. I guess you could call it a 'transitional' album, as some parts of it leer back to the earlier 'lightweight' white reggae stuff, while other parts, most notably some of the instrumental compositions, sound closer to the 'mature Police' sound of 1981-83 (i.e. the synths, heavy arrangements, etc.). But that's alright by me; the Police are one of those bands whose transitional albums are actually better than the non-transitional ones because they're simply not allowing themselves to put out inferior material. If they were exploring a new style or approach, they wanted the best and they usually got it - perhaps it is this particular norm that really puts them nearly in the same league as the Beatles.

Unfortunately, Zenyatta is sometimes heavily underrated, which always grieves me, but I always console myself with the fact that there is no general consensus whatsoever about what the best album of the Police actually is - and that is definitely the sign of a truly immortal band. In fact, I dare say that out of their five studio albums, perhaps only Ghost In The Machine rarely gets considered as candidate for 'best' (and even so, three out of eleven commentators on the Prindle site have ranked it as their best anyway!). Isn't that amazing?

Anyway, back to the album in question. It is dang near perfect. The main distinction from the past is in that the band has included quite a few instrumentals this time - perhaps it was due to the record being 'rushed', as they said, but then again, it seems like every early Police album was 'rushed', so I wouldn't know. These four instrumentals get bashed a lot, but personally, I consider them unique, idiosyncratic, innovative and atmospheric. At least the first three. 'Voices Inside My Head' is based upon a classic echoey Summers riff, while Sting counterpoints it with an equally impressive bassline and Mr Copeland is there as usual with all his tremendous fills. The song matches its title perfectly, particularly when Sting begins chanting the title somewhere from up above, and the band's dreadful 'CHA! CHA! CHA!' used to scare the shit out of me when I was a kid. Summers' 'Behind My Camel', notorious for winning a Grammy for the best instrumental composition, might or might not have deserved it, but where else will you encounter such a tremendous synth/guitar interlocking pattern? Of course, Andy's synth-processed guitar riff can get monotonous, but come on, it's less than three minutes long, and I have learned to treat these things as they deserve after listening to Brian Eno (Andy obviously listened to Brian Eno as well - and to Robert Fripp, too, to both of whom he owes a little something. He later collaborated with Fripp, by the way).

The half-instrumental 'Shadows In The Rain' might take some time getting used to, as it's pretty 'weird', but there's so much going on in that track that I wouldn't even know where to start. The brilliant idea of bringing the drums far higher in the mix than everything else; the minimalistic bassline; Andy's ferocious guitar fireworks that you won't be hearing unless you turn the volume up pretty loud; and Sting's tribal wallowings about, well, shadows in the rain. Well, it's not that much, but it sure is enough to pump the level of 'atmosphericness' to the max so that I can actually visualize the shadows in the rain. Finally, the only thing that slightly lets the album down is 'The Other Way Of Stopping', but it comes on at the very end of the album and is partially salvaged by more incredible drumming from rock's hottest basher of the epoch, so I really don't mind. Remember, even Revolver had its 'Doctor Robert'.

And the actual songs are all winners - seven little pop/reggae/ska gems that deserve to be in everybody's collection. I suppose everybody knows the classic singles 'Don't Stand So Close To Me', with the infamous little sexy schoolgirl/big horny teacher theme, and 'De Do Do Do De Da Da Da' with some of the catchiest melodies of the epoch (and not so trivial either - the tempo changes alone in 'De Do Do Do' are pretty weird); but they're not any better than most of the rest. Thus, 'Driven To Tears' with its relentless beat and gritty bassline is angrier in its quietness and bitter sarcastic approach than most of the 'hardcore' stuff you ever heard (the song refers to the unhappiness of the third world countries and their being betrayed by the more successful part of the world, a topic not wholly unfamilar for Sting's solo work). Meanwhile, 'When The World Is Running Down You Make The Best Of What's Still Around' fully deserves its fourteen-word title with Summers' echoey ringing chords and Sting's excellent vocal workout.

These are the 'serious classics' - but the hidden gem of the record is the hilarious lightweight ska excourse 'Canary In A Coalmine', where the boys speed up the standard tempo and come out with something lovely, irresistable and tremendously funny. For my money, Andy Summers' guitar never sounded that playful and amusing again, and I would be hard pressed to find any analogy in the rock world. Another dive into ska is 'Man In A Suitcase', quite different because the tempo is slower and the basic vocal melody emphasizes Sting's personal troubles with 'living in a suitcase' (you know what he means, doncha? All 'em rich fat rockers got the same problems...) more than the sarcastic intonation in 'Canary'. Classy catchy refrain. And finally, don't forget Copeland's pretty anti-war send-up 'Bombs Away', which might just be the best song he's ever penned. Or maybe not.

In any case, I don't call the album flawless - perhaps it would have been a wiser choice to replace the final instrumental with a full normal composition, or maybe get the tracks arranged in a different order, whatever. But no other Police album has such a high level of diversity (from the hilarity of 'Canary' to the anger of 'Tears' to the eccentricity of 'Voices'), and no other Police album has such an immaculate run as the first five songs of this album - had they been released on an EP, I would have given it a 15 and proclaimed it the EP to end all other EPs. Tough luck. Too bad the Police never really topped this thing, or, worse, never really advanced it further - their next two albums are actually far more 'mainstream' as far as the overall sound goes. Which makes me question myself: was this accidental or was this direction in which they took music on Reggatta De Blanc and Zenyatta a dead end in itself?



Year Of Release: 1981
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 13

Expanding sonic boundaries even further, but don't tell me synths are bad for the Police!


Track listing: 1) Spirits In The Material World; 2) Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic; 3) Invisible Sun; 4) Hungry For You (J'Aurais Toujours Faim De Toi); 5) Demolition Man; 6) Too Much Information; 7) Rehumanize Yourself; 8) One World (Not Three); 9) Omegaman; 10) Secret Journey; 11) Darkness.

Zenyatta was arguably the peak - and the guys obviously knew that, otherwise why should they have called the album 'Top of the world'? - and, of course, there's nowhere but down after the peak, right? That's what most people think anyway, I guess. But you see, some people reach the top and then crash down to the bottom in a matter of seconds using the same way they came up. The Police, on the other hand, preferred to descend slowly and gradually, and using the other side of the mountain of artistic success as well. Which means seriously modifying their sound. Having messed around with the XTC producer for some time, they were convinced to 'modernize' the sound a bit, and so, in addition to the drums/bass/guitar fireworks of yore, Sting and Co. bring in synthesizers, thus getting closer to the treacherous world of synth-pop, and even saxophones, getting closer to the treacherous world of funky rave-up.

This definitely muddles the sound up a bit, since the Police do not sound unique with this album - not on every single track, at least. After a few listens you get to understand that the change is not as significant as it seemed at first; for instance, after sitting several times through 'Spirits In The Material World' it becomes obvious that the synth lines upon which the song is based are actually a mere substitute for a reggaeish/tangoish guitar rhythm of the 'Roxanne' type, and with a different production, the song could have easily fit onto Outlandos D'Amour. But the extra production angles do take away from the classic idiosyncratic style, and this explains the disappointment of the many and complaints about 'overproduction'. Then again, who wants to tally all the time within a given framework? The Police certainly wouldn't want to do that.

And then again, the extra production actually works fine on some of the tracks. There's no way the band could have inserted all that creepiness and near-gothic majesty into a song like 'Invisible Sun' three years ago. It may deal with the problems of Northern Ireland, of course, but you wouldn't really know that without a special education problem - basically, it's just a violent social rant from Stingie. Wait... violent? It's as stern and becalmed as anything, and that gives the song an extra edge. That unnerving countdown of one... two... three... four... five... six... at the beginning, the robotic dum-dum-dum of the main synthline, Andy's solid repetitive riff, the menacing whoah-whoah harmonies, and above all, Sting's vocal manner the likes of which he'd never assumed before: immobile and dark, without the usual whiny or screechy overtones, like he's the Lord Jesus or something. Yeah yeah I know what you're thinking about, but believe me, it really works - even in the somewhat 'brighter' chorus section, which contrasts with the dark verses in a way that doesn't please everyone (I think I see the obvious seam, too), but which you eventually get used to.

'Invisible Sun' is, IMHO, the best song on here, but in no way does it overshadow the rest - as is the usual trick, EVERY song on here has at least something going on for it. The big hit and the classic, of course, was 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic', which borrows the majority of its title from the Beatles and invents it gorgeous vocal melody from nowhere, and it's hardly possible to dislike, especially the way they get to accelerate the tune near the end when Sting goes into the 'every little, every little, every little thing she does is MAGIC MAGIC MA-A-A-GIC' rave-up. And then there's the already mentioned 'Spirits In The Material World', with its memorable chorus and everything - I always get the feeling it's a bit too simplistic and Marley-ish compared to the rest of this stuff, but that's just me. It's still one of the best known Police tunes, so just shoot me.

After those three first "popular classics", though, the album drifts into the territory that's usually dark for everybody but the astute Police connoisseur. Sting goes around complaining on various political and social issues, while the others drift off into experimental playing territory and make the end product just a wee bit less accessible than the previous efforts. But that's no problem if you've listened to the record more than one time. Let's see now. 'Hungry For You (J'Aurais Toujours Faim De Toi)' proves that Sting's got a hideous French pronunciation, but heck, I've yet to meet an English-speaking person with a good French prononce. It kicks plenty much ass in the excitement department, though. 'Demolition Man' may be overlong, but I love it anyway - only the Police could take a funky melody and make it that schizophrenic, with crazy saxes and absolutely insane drumming all over the place, not to mention Sting's equally insane vocals as he blurts out 'I'm a walking disaster, I'm a demolition man'. Hey, most funk people would probably take that bloody riff and use it as an introduction; the Police make all the song sound like a furious tempest by sticking with it to the very end.

Then there's the poppy approach - 'Too Much Information' has a vocal hook you'll never get rid of (besides, I sure can identify with the 'too much information going through my brain' message), and Andy Summers' 'Omegaman', opening with a cool phased rhythm, manages somehow to merge a fast punkish rhythm with astral overtones. Besides, watch out for that phased solo; I've yet to hear something like that instrumental section. 'Psychedelic punk' - how's that for you? That's the best categorization for the song I can offer. Then you get some more reggae in 'One World (Not Three)', a deep introspective song in "Secret Journey' which is hardly great but is hardly crap, either (I always love it when some sharp pretentious song from Stingie is backed with an equally sharp rhythm support from the band - it makes the message oh so much more distinctive), and Copeland's 'Darkness' ends the album on a boring repetitive note, which is fine by me, because the song's message itself is 'life is easy when it was boring'.

Oh silly me. In the midst of all this Stu bestows 'Rehumanize Yourself' upon us - a fast, lightweight, funny popster along the lines of 'Bombs Away', a perfect breather in between the more 'experimental' stuff, too bad it gets lost so often. Might just be the greatest song the Police ever put out.

In short, not a clunker in the whole bunch, which means that production and pretentiousness aside, the band's songwriting well was far from being exhausted. Repeated listens are necessary for those who find the ideal Police in 'Roxanne' or 'De Do Do Do', of course, but I wouldn't call repeated listening to this album 'self-exhaustion' or anything like that. It's the Eighties, yes, and the Police have shifted. Who gives a damn? The Eighties, tacky as they were, should still be blessed for offering this quality material for our pleasure.



Year Of Release: 1983
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 12

The Police going adult contemporary? If so, it's the best adult contemporary album I've ever heard.

Best song: EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE (I'd like to be original but magis amica veritas)

Track listing: 1) Synchronicity I; 2) Walking In Your Footsteps; 3) O My God; 4) Mother; 5) Miss Gradenko; 6) Synchronicity II; 7) Every Breath You Take; 8) King Of Pain; 9) Wrapped Around Your Finger; 10) Tea In The Sahara; [BONUS TRACK:] 11) Murder By Numbers.

The lengthiest break in between albums - a whole year without an album, and the Police get back together despite the unbearable tension between the band members to record Synchronicity, the LP which would turn out to be their last one even if the band itself weren't at all aware of the fact at the time of recording. As everybody knows, of course, it was also their biggest commercial success, a smash worldwide hit that even threatened Thriller. This, of course, does not mean it's their best effort; but let it be stated loud and clear on the spot that in no way do I belong to the decisive party of Synchronicity-bashers. It is still a great record, and pretty unique in its little own way.

The album's success was, of course, due to it being mainly a springboard for Sting's hit singles - 'Every Breath You Take' is the most grandiose of those, but 'King Of Pain' and 'Wrapped Around Your Finger' were also successes, and 'Syncronicity II' and 'Tea In The Sahara' also received a lot of airplay in their time. But the album is more than just a collection of singles. It has often been called a 'virtual Sting solo album', because Mr Sumner clearly dominates in a huge way that was unheard of before. The once famous band interplay is reduced to naught here; the best songs do not even feature Copeland's drumming in any interesting way, and as for Andy, well, he's definitely there, but he's starting to look more and more like a session man if you ask me.

Besides, Andy also gets the bad luck to contribute 'Mother' to this album - a hideous song if there ever was one, and the worst clunker in the band's catalog by definition (and a decisive factor in rounding the album's rating to an eight instead of a weak nine). Think a 'Behind My Camel'-like gloomy repetitive melody (only without such a distinctive guitar riff), but 'graced' with Andy's paranoid screamings. Stupid. The rhythm track itself isn't that bad, and there's no serious problem with the lyrics - unless Andy stole the 'every girl I go out with becomes my mother in the end' line from somewhere, it's probably the deepest thought he contributed to the Police treasure chest - but Andy simply cannot wail in a paranoid manner. Leave that stuff to John Lennon or Captain Beefheart, Andy. A well-placed scream can be goofy and funny, or it can be scary and creepy, but this is just ridiculous and bleeding on the ears. Blah.

At least Copeland's contribution is thoroughly better; 'Miss Gradenko' is yet another in a series of those lightweight half-comic numbers Stu is famous for, even if this time around it's kinda disturbing, especially when you hear grim lyrics like 'Is anybody alive in here? Nobody but us in here'. Can't deny the catchiness of the chorus though, not on your life you can't. A lightweight piffle it is, but a necessary lightweight piffle - kinda like 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer' on Abbey Road.

The other eight songs (nine, if you count 'Murder By Numbers' that only appears on regular CD issues of the album) are pure Sting, and as is the usual custom, all of them rule. Some rule from the start, others on repeated listens. Contrary to initial rumours, Mr Sumner does not entirely slide into soft-rock territory; the two title tracks gotta rank among the best rockers the Police ever did, even if they're widely different from the earlier stuff - the punkish aesthetics has been swept away, replaced by a "clean-cut" New Wave punch and numerous artsy overtones, with atmospheric synthesizers and Andy's guitar assuming a totally otherworldly role. (Which reminds me - be sure to trace all the weird guitar effects that Andy uses throughout. It's Sting's album, for sure, but it also gotta rank as the peak of Summers' experimental tiddly-widdling with his six-string. No wonder the man easily found a common language with Robert Fripp).

Anyway, 'Synchronicity I' is my favourite of the two - the energy, catchiness and band tightness on this Karl Jung-dedicated track simply can't be beat. Its partner, 'Synchronicity II', is somewhat more complex and throws in tough lyrics about ugly industrial mornings and Scottish lakes, but is still a near-masterpiece of a superb 'atmospheric rocker'. And that's it with the energetic tracks; although personally, I'd say that 'O My God', despite being slower and 'draggier', is still pretty energetic. The critics are right when they pinpoint the song as one of the weakest links on the album, mainly because it shows signs of self-plagiarism (hmm, haven't we already met that bassline before? 'Demolition Man'? 'Driven To Tears'?), but they miss one thing: Sting's total self-dedication. It's obviously the most personal and one of the most deeply felt cuts on the album, and while it lacks an immediate hook, it's so disgustingly sincere I don't have the heart to condemn the song. Besides, shoot, I really dig the bassline.

Then there's the soft rock. Adult pap. Sissy sludge. Radio fodder. You got me anyway. 'Every Breath You Take'. Need I say something about it? Poor Mr Copeland, reduced to some miserable electronic-enhanced pssh-pssh-pssh rhythms. Great Andy Summers rhythm playing - think David Byrne without the insane overdrive. And that unparalleled lyrical twist. 'Jealousy+longing'. No wonder the song's been a radio favourite ever since, god bless Mr Sting. 'King Of Pain'. 'There's a little black spot on the sun today'. Beatles-quality vocal melody, 'nuff said. 'Wrapped Around Your Finger'. New Age atmosphere, but hey, the song would be worth the trouble even if it contained nothing but those 'piiiiiiwng-piiiiwng' synth (guitar?) noises. But no, it also has Sting assuming the A-A-B-B rhyming scheme for his verses instead of the traditionally classic A-B-A-B scheme. How clever. Count me in. 'Tea In The Sahara'. Moody schlock? Hmm, if the entire album were filled with such stuff (see some of the Stingman's solo records), I'd probably be worried. But I'm not, and I'm perfectly happy with Sting's little mystical tale, especially its creepy end.

And that leaves us with 'Walking In Your Footsteps', which most people hate but I don't understand why - catchy vocal melody AGAIN, plus Copeland is really going nuts with that electronic percussion set, and the song is NOT about dinosaurs, it's about people dying out like dinosaurs which is pretty grim if you ask me - and that end track, 'Murder By Numbers', which, as Sting himself confessed on Frank Zappa's Broadway The Hard Way, was written by Satan, according to Jimmy Swaggart. Cool little jazzy tune that teaches you how to, well, murder by numbers.

I dunno, maybe my tastes have gone nuts and I take ordinary unexceptional pop numbers for eternal masterpieces, but for Chrissake, I don't see anything that can be called 'formula' on this album. Even 'Mother', awful as it is, is hardly formulaic and uninventive. Yeah, stylistically a lot of this stuff can be qualified as 'easy listening adult contemporary', but first of all, that's not true - "easy listening" either supposes immediately obvious hooks or no hooks at all, and the hooks on songs like 'King Of Pain' aren't really THAT obvious or cliched. And second, what's wrong with 'easy listening' stuff if it's well-written? On Synchronicity, the band goes out with a bang, showing that EVEN radio-ready soft-rock stuff can be artsy, intelligent, and profound. Hey, if so many people love Steely Dan, what's wrong with loving Synchronicity? Definitely not the best place to start your Police training, but most certainly the logical conclusion to that training, and one of the best swan songs in existence I'm aware of.



Year Of Release: 1995
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 12

Maybe that exclamatory point isn't particularly appropriate - but at least the jumping is professional.

Best song: no, no, no, you don't fool me that easily.

Track listing: CD I: 1) Next To You; 2) So Lonely; 3) Truth Hits Everybody; 4) Walking On The Moon; 5) Hole In My Life; 6) Fall Out; 7) Bring On The Night; 8) Message In A Bottle; 9) The Bed's Too Big Without You; 10) Peanuts; 11) Roxanne; 12) Can't Stand Losing You; 13) Landlord; 14) Born In The 50s; 15) Be My Girl/Sally;

CD II: 1) Synchronicity I; 2) Synchronicity II; 3) Walking In Your Footsteps; 4) Message In A Bottle; 5) O My God; 6) De Do Do Do De Da Da Da; 7) Wrapped Around Your Finger; 8) Tea In The Sahara; 9) Spirits In The Material World; 10) King Of Pain; 11) Don't Stand So Close To Me; 12) Every Breath You Take; 13) Roxanne; 14) Can't Stand Losing You; 15) So Lonely.

Let's get this straight: this album obviously does not present the Police at their live best, as any true Police connoisseur will be able to tell you; then again, it's pretty rare that an officially released album presents any particular band at their very best. But on the other hand, you don't really need the live Police experience as badly as you need, say, the live Rolling Stones experience. These guys weren't known for inventive stage improvisation, and while their constant ego clashes worked well in the studio, where each of the members pushed the rest to their limits, onstage the effect is different, to put it mildly. Even if it does result in occasional hilarious bits of stage banter (STING [warming the audience up for the upcoming 'So Lonely']: "I feel so lonely!" COPELAND [from behind the drum kit, no doubt with a sardonic grin on his face]: "I'm not surprised").

Anyway, the very concept of the album is kinda fun. A 2-CD package this is, with two complete or near-complete shows, one from a Boston concert in 1979, the other from an Atlanta concert in 1983; so you get to see the young ambitious post-punkish Police first and the artsy bloated inflated denominated Police next (once again, I can't help but bring up a Who analogy). The track listing doesn't overlap much, but I have certain problems with the second disc, because the obvious aim of the 1983 tour was to play Synchronicity in its entirety (everything but 'Miss Gradenko' and - thank God - 'Mother' is on here), throwing on just the two hits from Zenyatta Mondatta, only one track from Ghost and a bunch of old classics to round up the show (they're the only overlapping tunes, naturally). Ah well, it's not like I don't like Synchronicity or anything, I just like the concept of equal representation too much.

The first show is certainly the more energetic and upbeat of the two, since the Police weren't burdened that much with their position as "serious artists" in 1979; it is, however, also the more chaotic of the two, and when these guys are chaotic, it don't always work. I really don't care that much for Sting slurring the vocals, for instance - it just ain't pretty, and come on now, Mr School Teacher, there's no need pretending to be a punk because you aren't one. I'm also disappointed at how Andy just can't achieve the same wonderful impact with his solos when he improvises them rather than meticulously constructs them in the studio. Even so, the energy is unquestionable, and the band's sweaty groove often redeems the actual inconsistencies.

Highlights on Disc 1 would include aggressive renditions of the band's two early tunes that didn't make it onto the actual LPs ('Landlord' and, most significantly, their first ever single 'Fall Out', easily the most punk-style song they ever did); a classy bouncy performance of 'Hole In My Life'; by-the-book, but very dedicated renditions of 'Message In A Bottle' and 'Bring On The Night'; and the bit of 'psychedelic jamming' used to extend 'The Bed's Too Big Without You' is actually surprisingly good, showing that Andy is really much more skilled at producing ambient/avantgarde kind of noise with his guitar than at playing regular solos - which is why he hit it off so good with Robert Fripp, of course. Lowlights would include 'So Lonely', where Andy's solo just totally sucks and Sting disgraces his classic vocal coda by extending it to a triple length with three times less emotional resonance; and the last two tracks - what kind of a boorish band would want to end their set with 'Be My Girl/Sally', together with the entire Cockney monolog? That's supposed to be an encore? Nitwits!

Now the second show is where most people start having problems, but not me, really. There's the big Police Ensemble there, with three chicks singing backup vocals and probably some additional guys on keyboards/chimes/whatever, although I can't find 'em in the credits. Yet even so, I think that only two of the songs are rendered close to unlistenable - 'O My God' and 'King Of Pain', both due to dumb codas, especially 'King Of Pain' where Sting starts to encourage an audience singalong that looks pretty cheap. Everything else is rehearsed and polished so that it's hard to believe it's the same band that used to turn songs like 'Next To You' into sloppy messes of unbridled energy. This means you probably won't be listening to this disc much, but at least while it's on, it never really bores me or offends me. Here, the highlights would include both 'Synchronicities', meshed together without a break; Summers' marvelous spotlight on 'Walking In Your Footsteps' (I actually prefer this one to the studio version); 'Spirits In The Material World', for once actually played with a guitar instead of the 'corny' synth; and, naturally, 'Every Breath You Take'. Oh, and listen to Andy's insane lightning-speed chugging on 'De Do Do Do': maybe his live solos do stink, but he's still one hell of a rhythm player. But what's up with Sting transforming the bassline of 'O My God' into the 'Day Tripper' riff?

Of course, it's understandable why this album was released so late - in 1995, a weak live album couldn't have hurt the reputation of the Police nohow because it would only be bought by diehards and nostalgia-ridden gentlemen anyway. Yet even so, if it is weak, it's only weak by the high standards of the band itself. The fact remains that the tracklist is goddamn impressive - there's about twenty-five compositional gems on here, minus the overlapping part and an occasional negligence like 'Born In The 50s'; the energy of the first show fully redeems the lack of professionalism, and the professionalism of the second show fully redeems the lack of energy; and most important of all, that's a fine pair of pants Sting is wearing on the album sleeve.


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