Police- a subject of much discussion these days. Some claim to hate them. Society cannot function without them, but what does that say about society? And can you believe they used to be a band?
I admit the “white people ripping off reggae” jab was a bit harsh, but I never said I was fair. I certainly wasn’t when it came to depicting my hair and acne.
Here’s the thing- The Police, a pop-rock trio comprised of Gordon “Sting” Sumner, Andy Summers, and Stewart Copeland, once had GOOD SONGS. Like, REALLY good. Better than anything else at the time. But now, when you turn on the radio (that can still be done, right?), you hear this:
That is what’s known as The Shittiest Shit Ever Shat. You’d never know how incredibly talented these guys are from this. That awful keyboard tone and Sting’s drowsy vocals drown everything out. It’s boring tripe, and what’s worse, it’s from their final album. I worked on my high school’s poetry magazine, and the stupid, pompous lyrics to this would’ve fit right in. Actually, now that I think about it, the poet kids I knew in 10th grade would’ve rejected it as the crap that it is.
“King of Pain” is from the same album, and a lot of folks defend it when it comes on. It was a huge hit. It is garbage.
“Weird” Al Yankovic did a parody of that song. How many songs do you continue to like after he does that? Exactly. It stinks on hot ice. Even once the tempo finally picks up.
But the real cherry-shaped turd on this shit sundae called Synchronicity is the hit song “Every Breath You Take”. Validating stalkers since 1983, it begins unmistakably with a castrated guitar riff, then everything submits to Sting’s breathy, creepazoid vocals. It is a goddamn crime against humanity. Has Justin Beiber covered it? (Don’t answer that.)
If you ever liked that song, I hope you don’t now. Any man who dedicates that song to a woman will obliterate any and all respect she might have had for him. It is the wedding anthem of the future cuckold.
Listen, kid… don’t cry. I know it’s a lot to take. Look, look who’s here!
See, there was good reason they were famous! That’s the very same Sting that made you sick a moment ago… but listen to how he could sing AND play bass! Feel that incredible energy? That’s Stewart Copeland driving the beat on drums. His dad was CIA, so he traveled the world growing up, learning a variety of instruments, and becoming a terrific composer in his own right. He’s considered one of the top drummers in rock history. Then you have Andy Summers, ANOTHER modern composer, layering the connective tissue of rhythm guitar. It’s a glimmering nugget of perfection, yet it retains the scrappiness of live proto-punk.
This same debut album, Outlandos D’Amour, features the hit song “Roxanne”. If any Police song lives up to my earlier “ripoff” charge, it’s “Roxanne”. You’ve all heard it too many times, so like hell I’m posting it here. It would only make you upset again. Plus god love him, but Eddie Murphy ruined that song in 48 Hrs.
The scruffy reggae elements work a little better in “Hole In My Life”, which also gets pretty dark, as a lot of early Police songs tended to do. (See also the suicide tone-poem “Can’t Stand Losing You”.)
The second Police album, Reggatta de Blanc, pours the reggae influence on much thicker, but again, it’s mostly working at this point. The languid “Walking On The Moon” gets a lot of love, but this Summers guitar riff is what drew me to The Police in the first place:
Please note that although I am posting these videos, I have never watched them. Music videos, with very few exceptions, only lead to cringing, and lowering your opinion of the band through awful promotional materials. If music videos don’t look instantly dated and staged, then they’re a hokey approximation of the emotions of a live performance. Make no mistake. It’s all shit. If you’re someone who was born after MTV began broadcasting, you don’t even know how extraneous it all is. No song should ever have a music video. It should be complete on its own, not require any visual aspect whatsoever. Musicians gaping into cameras as they fake their way through their big number is always pathetic. It is the display of a peacock with no feathers.
I’m sorry, the Bad Cop snuck back in! How’d he do that? Won’t happen again. I promise.
The real star of the sophomore album is this shimmering beauty.
This is what these three bottle-blondes were capable of at one time! Listen to that! It’s fucking EXALTING! Just three dudes! In 1979, one of the highest creative peaks of our world! MY GOD! IT’S FULL OF STARS!
How could this possibly be followed? Like this, in 1980:
Again I remind you, that is career douchebag Sting on bass. You could set your watch to it. Copeland lays down an entrancing bed of echoing thunder, and Summers proves his avant-garde pedigree with his lead guitar work.
This was considered pop music in 1980. This is how we all got so spoiled. Even worse, most of us bought the album for “Don’t Stand So Close To Me”, got totally sick of it, and then discovered gems like this. On the “b-side”, back when that was a thing (vinyl records and plastic cassettes). Usually the b-side was a dumping ground for, in the words of REM’s Peter Buck, “failed experiments, badly written songs, drunken jokes, and occasionally, a worthwhile song that doesn’t fit the feel of an album.” (That’s from the liner notes of the wonderful REM disc Dead Letter Office, which was naught but b-sides. But REM is another article altogether.)
“The Other Way Of Stopping” is the last track on The Police’s third outing, Zenyatta Mondatta. I would call this album their peak. The cover even has a triangle like Pink Floyd’s seminal Dark Side Of The Moon, and it’s got bold oranges and reds, like Sgt. Pepper. The visual allusions are all there for the inevitable comparisons.
In “Man In A Suitcase”, you can hear how much these guys used to enjoy performing with each other, before the big fallouts with all the leaders and guys. They’ve emerged from the cocoons of post-punk and reggae with a truly unique sound.
But, you know, ’80s.
As a lad, I loved Ghost In The Machine for the very reason I hate it now; the synths. They infest the album like wire kudzu. It’s dark, moody and coldly pulsating, but it does yield solid entries. The cover is dated, yet fantastic and aesthetically appropriate; it was years before I worked out that it was digital caricatures of the band members, and not just garbage text. Very impressive.
“Too Much Information” is as close as the band gets to real liftoff on this disc. Admittedly, horns have been added, but it covers the feeling that the guys are not connecting on the primal level they once had. I’m only this harsh on this album because I’ve seen how much power The Police used to wield. Now you’ve witnessed it too!
And so we come to Synchronicity, the swan song. For the first time, a new year didn’t mean a new Police album. This was an early warning sign that Sting was becoming Summer’s Eve. He and Stewart Copeland even started swinging at each other during the recording of “Every Breath You Take”, as if it didn’t suck enough. Copeland and Summers get one weird track apiece, then Sting jizzes all over the rest, foreshadowing his Fields Of Gold treacle. “Wrapped Around Your Finger” is merely the oily opening salvo.
There’s not much worth discussing after that. There are several great solo efforts from Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland that you can find in your local used CD store, since they’re out of print because nobody bought them in the first place. Stewart Copeland and his brother even forged a failed record label based on great contemporary instrumental music, if you want to get me REALLY depressed. Sting went on to provide the musical score for every shopping mall ever, along with Kenny G.
It’s like this. Weirdness used to be considered a virtue in popular music. It was a part of marketability, and it was very difficult to fake. And what happens to things that can’t be faked?
Everyone tries to fake them anyway.
Go home, kid. You’ve had enough for today. We’ll call you if we need to talk to you some more. I think we’ve stretched this metaphor thin enough.