' Police Reviews
The Police

Strongest album: Synchronicity
Weakest album: The Ghost in the Machine

Every young kid needs some psuedo-intellectual rock star to look up to and get him thinking "deep" thoughts. In my case and probably yours that rock star was Sting; yeah, he's pretentious, but an evolutionary advance over previous smart-teen role models Jim Morrison and Jackson Browne. But don't let me mislead you - the Police were a band, and in the truest sense: each player was integral to the overall sound. In fact, what makes Police records hold up more than anything else is the dynamic interplay between Stewart Copeland's inventive drums, Andy Summer's deceptively simple guitar lines, and Sting's ringing vocals and jazzy bass. The Police turned the traditional power-trio approach inside out. Instead of dominating the band with his lead guitar work, Summers instead took a sideman's role with tasteful commentary on a sound whose basis lay in Stewart's drumming, which worked almost as lead instrument by simultaneously working against the beat while driving it. Like a lot of late '70s British bands, the Police appropriated ideas from the reggae introduced by West Indian immigrants; rather than mindlessly skanking it up like far too many other bands, the Police bleached reggae out for their own unique, inventive approach, using dub techniques to develop an intriguing spareness. Sting's songwriting held it all together, and while he's remembered as the main architect behind the band and a first-rate composer of classic pop songs, oddly enough the band suffered somewhat from inconsistent and/or unfinished songwriting. Too often the band drifted into intriguing, but dreary, excursions into their experimental side, which helped them shape their sound but undercut the catchy rock-pop songs they sat beside nonetheless. The other problem a lot of people might have is Sting's personality; whether you find him a pretentious, arrogant windbag singing in a fake Jamaican accent, or a penetratingly intelligent, thoughtful commentator on the human condition with a bag full of fascinating literary/historical alusions is a matter of personal taste. Myself, I'm stuck somewhere in the middle. I quit paying attention to Sting's solo career after 1987, though; as I said, I like the Police because they're a great band, not the Sting Experience as some might erroneously believe. As for Copeland's and Summer's post-Police careers, I haven't heard much (nor am I interested) - I expect about as much as I do from any stellar sideman who steps out into the frontman spot, which is to say not much at all. In their (mostly) stellar '78-'83 heyday, however, the Police managed to push some of the boundaries of rock with real intelligence and skill, and threw us a handful of bonafide classic songs in the process, too.

Can't get enough of Sting, Stewart, and Andy? Here's Zenyatta Regatta.

Outlandos D'Amour (1978) ****

Like a lot of bands, the Police's debut presents them at their rawest, punkiest, and catchiest. Not that these guys are all that raw or punk, mind you; what they have in common with the punk movement they hitched onto is mostly an incredible hungry energy and drive. Arguably their best album, it certainly contains less filler than later efforts, if only for the fact that they stick to straightforward rock songs and don't get bogged down with experimental excursions (save for the closer, "Masoko Tanga"). The only drawback is that the band hasn't fully developed its sound yet, rendering this a bit simplistic compared to their later sophistication. It contains an ode to a prostitute that you probably know well: "Roxanne". The other singles were the whiny suicide plaint, "I Can't Stand Losing You", and the slow-to-fast ballad/raveup "So Lonely", of which Sting later admitted to ripping off the melody of Bob Marley's "No Woman No Cry". There's also some catchy, speedy punkers - "Next To You", "Peanuts", "Truth Hits Everybody", all of which are excellent. There's also one real low point: Summer's monologue in the juvenile "Be My Girl - Sally", an ode to an inflatable doll.

Regatta De Blanc (1979) ***1/2

A hasty schedule left Sting a bit short on songs, so about half of the material on this album is Stewart Copeland's. Copeland's songs are raw, gawky, and amateurish, but for the most part are redeemed by their charm, humor, and catchiness quotient, and they certainly take the wind out of the sails of Sting's more pompous moments. "Message In A Bottle", a perfect, classic single, overshadows most everything else, and is certainly the most fully developed song on the album. However, the Police are fun when they're throwing it away, which they're basically doing on half the tracks here, especially on the title track, a band jam, and the junky "It's Alright For You". Copeland's "On Any Other Day" is hilarious, and the novelty number "Walking On The Moon" is kind of trite but bubblegum-ily sticks to your teeth. The band has certainly improved their playing, and their approach is more distinctive and fleshed out, especially on (again) the title track.

Zenyatta Mondatta (1980) ***

The Police make some more strides forward in developing their sound, and for the most part abandon punchy power-pop for a more frankly experimental approach. Sting's lyrics likewise have grown up, as he tackles big subjects and becomes politicized - "Driven To Tears". It all comes together on the classic single, "Don't Stand So Close To Me", which got a rhyme with Nabakov in it on the radio, a feat which I salute with my worn-out copy of Lolita. "Dedododo Dedadada" is far less mindless than the title and chorus suggest, and is another very catchy single, as is the life-on-the-road whine "Man In A Suitcase". "When The World Is Running Down, You Make The Best Of What's Still Around" is a great, great title - but unfortunately the tune itself mainly consists of that catchphrase and little else. "Voices Inside My Head", "Behind My Camel", "The Other Way Of Stopping", "Shadows In The Rain", are instrumentally intriguing but dull art-rock instrumental/semi-instrumental workouts; too much of this album relies on the Police sound without good songwriting to back it up.

Ghost In The Machine (1981) **1/2

Here's where the Police try too much experimentation at once, and make the fatal mistake of abandoning their spare trio foundation. Splattering horns and synths all over the place, their distinct personality is lost amidst tuneless, overproduced numbers that are for the most part pretty garish and uninteresting. It does contain at least two classic tracks, though: "Spirits In The Material World", with a repeating synthline that Pete Townsend would smash his Baba O'Riley for; and "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic", a wonderfully sentimental pop song that your grandparents could've hummed if they wrote it back in the '40s. The rest mainly consists of material so slow it'll put you to sleep - "Invisible Sun", "Secret Journey" - or material that's loud, bombastic, overarranged, and messy - "Demolition Man", "Too Much Information". Some critics rate this as the Police's emergence as important artistes, but to my ears it's a sidestep that ditches most of what was interesting about the Police in the first place.

Synchronicity (1983) ****

Their final album, this went multi-platinum and held its own against Micheal Jackson in our year Thriller, so chances are you've probably heard it. Or at least the classic trinity that leads off side two: "Every Breath You Take", perhaps the most blatant #1 hit about stalking; "King Of Pain", which hasn't worn as well with its dumb rhymes, but has a catchy chorus and good Summers guitar work; and the eerie "Wrapped Around Your Finger", very effectively atmospheric and perhaps the only Top 40 hit to use the words "Charbydis" and "alabaster". Supposedly this is a concept album, as you can tell from the opener and closer of Side One, "Synchronicity I" and "Synchronicity II", both of which are good anthemic epics, especially the latter with its angry political lyrics and shouted seethings that give even Paul Weller a run for his money. It's about Carl Jung's theory that everything's connected somehow (not a terribly original idea, my inner smartass would like to point out), and for some reason Sting sings about Scottish lochs, but don't ask me how they fit into the picture. Copeland's "Miss Gradenko" is a catchy little number with juicy chord changes, but Summers' unbearable, godawfully screeched "Mother" is one of the single most annoying tracks in the history of mankind, and that's no exagerration. Quite a bit of the rest suffers from the band taking itself far too seriously - more dull art rock, especially "Walking In Your Footsteps". But the great stuff is probably the Police's best great stuff, and it's a real tie as whether this or the debut is the definitive Police album. After this, as you undoubtedly know, the Police called it a day due to some serious infighting and the typical petty band politics.

Message In A Box (1993) ****

Quite literally all the Police you need and more: 4 CDs containing everything the Police ever officially released, which includes all the albums and all the B-sides, singles, and miscellaneous. The B-sides and early singles are surprisingly good, many revealing an unexpectedly pop-punkish bent, such as their first single, "Fallout" (made before Summers joined the band), and Copeland's snotty tongue-firmly-in-cheek "A Sermon". One stop shopping if you can afford it, it's fitting testament to one of the '80s best bands, one that was not as influential as they should have been simply for the fact that it's hard to mimic the Police sound: any garage lout can come up with credible hardcore punk rifferama, but trying to play the Police takes some real talent and practice. There are several other Police compilations out there for those on more of a budget; Every Breath You Take: The Singles is recommended, with the one caveat that it contains an overarranged 1986 remake of "Don't Stand So Close To Me" instead of the much better original.

Reader Comments

Grant Mosesian, MosesianGJ@ems.com

I bought this one liking the idea that you could sweep a bands entire offerings with one purchase. And in chronological order to boot. There is this song buried on the end of one of the CDs. Its called "I Burn for You". Apparently from a soundtrack of a movie that probably 3 people saw. Anyway it has to be one of the most brilliant, riveting cuts I have experienced. I think at one point I played it over in a row 15 times. Sounds silly, but it was almost worth the fifty bucks on its own.

Joe Melodie, Melodie83@aol.com

AS a huge Police fan The greatest Rock and Roll band of all time for me The box set is a great way to get all the albums and then some. The Bsides are wonderfull also. It would of been even greater if the bsides were put together on tape four and the albums on the other three tapes, It could of been a regular album. anyway the albums we all know are great, but the bsides, live, soundtrack songs! Once Upon A Dream is a great song should of been on the last Police album instead of the horrible Mother and could of been a single. Fallout, Visions Of The Night, Low Life, I Burn For You all could of been singles or strong album tracks name any other bands that had bsides that were of such quality as there regular songs? if you were curious about the Police and don't own anything by them or wanted to sample them by this and you won't be sorry

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