Wilson and Alroy's Record Reviews We listen to the lousy records so you won't have to.

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The Police

Reviewed on this page:
Outlandos d'Amour - Reggatta De Blanc - Zenyatta Mondatta - Ghost In The Machine - Synchronicity - Live! - Bewitched - Mysterious Barricades

For a brief period the Police were the hottest rock band in the world, using reggae rhythms in stark arrangements with an angry, political, almost-punk sensibility. They got started a year after punk and new wave hit, but they brought tuneful songwriting and real musicianship to the table: Stewart Copeland is a fantastic drummer, always coming up with something interesting, and Sting and Andy Summers mostly stay in the background but with an unerring sense of timing. When Summers does take a solo, it's usually strikingly original. Sting's voice is expressive, and although his range is limited he stays within it: he doesn't bite off more than he can chew.

In terms of innovation, the Police were probably the first band outside of Jamaica to internalize reggae and do something new with it: everyone from Eric Clapton to Elton John to Paul Simon had done reggae numbers, but they were slavish imitations (Stevie Wonder's "Boogie On Reggae Woman" was so Wonderfied it wasn't really reggae anymore). And right from the start, the Police had worked out sudden tempo and time changes that left most rock bands -- dinosaurs to New Wavers -- in the dust: "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da" is the best-known example. They broke up at the height of their popularity after 1983's Synchronicity, and songwriter/lead singer Sting went on to respectable solo success, despite (or maybe because of) losing his earlier edge and going with Adult Contemporary production values. It became very fashionable among critics to diss Sting's solo work, which I won't do, mostly because I don't own any of it. Copeland later formed a fusion band, Animal Logic, with jazz bassist Stanley Clarke and vocalist Deborah Holland -- I can't comment on that material either.

There's a Police web site in Italy with tons of useful information: discographies, lyrics, tablature, etc. It's worth checking out. (DBW)

All I want to add is that Copeland totally blows me away. The best modern rock drummer, period. Also, note that we've reviewed some of Andy Summers solo work, but neither of us is planning to cover Sting's much higher-profile solo career. However, by popular demand we've simply listed his solo catalogue (plus some of Copeland's solo work, skipping a series of film soundtracks). Thanks to Craig Clark for help with the discography. (JA)

Sting, lead vocals, songwriter, bass; Andy Summers, guitar; Stewart Copeland, drums

Outlandos d'Amour (1978)
- Their first and most punk-influenced. Sting and company crank out high-energy rockers with simple catchy tunes and clever, tongue in cheek lyrics: "Can't Stand Losing You" was a hit, there's also "Next To You" and "Peanuts." Their reggae-trio chops are continually evident, on the compelling "Hole In My Life"; the tempo-shifting "So Lonely"; the ballad "Roxanne" -- with a prostitution theme that shocked some. The arrangements are almost pure guitar-bass-drums and vocals, but the parts are well thought out and the sound isn't thin: you never feel like there's anything missing. The record runs out of steam towards the end, with the dull generational anthem "Born In The Fifties," the childish "Be My Girl-Sally" and the extended reggae experiment "Masoko Tanga," which includes some effects like backwards tapes, but doesn't hold the listener's interest. (DBW)
- Wow, this totally kicks butt. Amazing energy and inventiveness here, and Copeland is outstanding. Possibly the best record of the early British New Wave movement - Setting Sons is comparable, although XTC and U2 both peaked later, and Elvis Costello don't quite cut it in my opinion. As for the final three tracks, I can see Wilson's argument, but I don't seem them as filler; they're interesting and stuffed with fun riffs - "Be My Girl" has an Ogden's Nut Gone Flake-inspired monologue that gets old, but it's no big disaster. (JA)

Reggatta De Blanc (1979)
- The band really hit its stride as a reggae outfit here (the title is patois for "White Reggae"): "Walking On The Moon" is perhaps their best entry in this category, "The Bed's Too Big Without You" is also first-rate, and the wordless title track is enjoyable. "Message In A Bottle," a faster reggae-rocker, was a huge hit (#1 in the UK), although I personally find it grating. More straightforward rockers include the hilarious shaggy-dog story "On Any Other Day," the twisted love song "Does Everyone Stare," and some filler ("Contact," "No Time This Time"). Again the arrangements are minimal, although a piano is occasionally in evidence. (DBW)
- I can't see any of this as filler. I don't find "Message" grating at all, despite the fact that we've all heard it a million times; Copeland's humbly humorous stuff here is his best ever ("On Any Other Day"; "Does Everyone Stare"); and the manic "No Time This Time" rocks explosively, like everything. Gems like the punk shouter "Its Alright For You" and the arresting reggae ballad "Bring On The Night" are minor pieces here but would have led the pack on any other album, and even the instrumental "Deathwish" and near-instrumental title track build magnificently. The best album by the most commercially important new rock band from the late 70s. (JA)

Zenyatta Mondatta (1980)
- Allegedly this album was rushed out and the band wasn't satisfied with it. Sounds real good to me, though. The hits ("Don't Stand So Close To Me," "De Doo Doo Doo, De Da Da Da") are perhaps their most memorable: "Don't Stand" is on an offbeat subject -- a teacher pursued by an amorous student -- with an irresistable melody (quoted by Mark Knopfler in Dire Straits' homophobic hit "Money For Nothing") and dramatic tempo shifts. The tune opens with a long, slow intro, the first of many on Police and Sting albums. Quality songwriting and effective minimalist production abound: "Driven To Tears" is quietly desperate; "Canary In A Coalmine" is a peppy groove for a depressing message. Weak tracks and all, this is still the best single example of why the Police mattered. (DBW)
- Side 1 is brilliant; side 2 includes a bunch of throwaway instrumentals and semi-instrumentals, but at least they're upbeat and crisply performed - Copeland's percussion is breathtakingly clever. Like the first two records, you should put this on whenever you're in the mood for good clean rock 'n' roll fun. (JA)

Ghost In The Machine (1981)
Another solid effort, though the abundance of keyboards and slow numbers signals trouble to come. Sting's lyrics are at their most thoughtful - the Marley-like reggae anthem "One World (Not Three)," the atmospheric "Spirits In The Material World," "Rehumanize Yourself." And the hit "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" is undeniably catchy if rather clichéd, using keyboards and steel drums for a light Caribbean feel. Even the more familiar-sounding tracks are still mostly enjoyable, including the fast-paced anthem "Too Much Information," and "Hungry For You," which sounds like an Outlandos track with French lyrics. However, most of the slower numbers drag: "Demolition Man" and Copeland's "Darkness" are just boring, while "Invisible Sun," about Northern Ireland, and "Secret Journey" may put you to sleep before they get to the first verse. (DBW)

I Advance Masked (Summers and Robert Fripp: 1982)
Summers' first two side projects were collaborative albums with Robert Fripp. After that, he put out a long series of solo efforts. (JA)

Synchronicity (1983)
Yes, this was the huge commercial success, #1 for a zillion weeks and so on. If you like Sting's solo work, this is the Police album that most closely resembles it: superslow tunes with creepy lyrics (the monster hits "Every Breath You Take," "King Of Pain," "Wrapped Around Your Finger"). The arrangements are lush, with plenty of keyboards and even strings; it's very professional, but rather lacking in vitality. There are two title tracks: the first ("Synchronicity") is a manic dead ringer for "Too Much Information"; "Synchronicity II" is a dire, heavy rock opus that points in an interesting direction the Police might have pursued but didn't. There's also one more clever reggae tune, "Walking In Your Footsteps," plus Andy Summers' awful "Mother." (DBW)
"Every Breath" topped the charts for an amazing eight weeks; "Synchronicity II" was a Top 40 hit like the other three. (JA)

Live! (rec. 1979 and 1983, rel. 1995)
This double CD encompasses two complete shows from opposite ends of the band's career, which will surely satisfy completists and diehards. But it's flat and predictable. The 1979 show is as high-powered and stripped-down as their two earliest albums, but it's also perfunctory and almost entirely a reprise of that material. Copeland is his usual ear-catching self, but Summers' limitations as a lead guitarist are brought to the fore. The 1983 show is a bloated mess: a trio of female harmony singers and plenty of drab synth just makes the band's artistic exhaustion even more obvious. Only four songs are repeated in each 15-track set list ("Roxanne," "So Lonely," etc.). But with dull turkeys like "King Of Pain" and "Every Breath You Take" cluttering up the second set, you may end up wishing you hadn't had to pay for two full disks. Still, though, as live records go this one is professional-sounding and hits all the high points of a worthy song catalog. (JA)

Rumblefish (Copeland: 1983)
First of a series of movie soundtracks by Copeland (we've omitted the later ones from our discography). (JA)

Bewitched (Summers and Robert Fripp: 1984)
Although essentially an Andy Summers solo record - he produced and wrote most the tunes - this is a good example of how Robert Fripp can salvage almost any project. It's entirely instrumental and gratingly beholden to mid-80s production values, with fake-sounding electronic drums and shrill synth lines. But Fripp keeps the band snappy, focused, and energetic, even when the minimalistic funk workout "What Kind Of Man Reads Playboy" runs eleven needless minutes. The catalyst is his repetitive, arpeggiated, digital delay-enhanced riffery; it's hypnotic even when Summers' soloing lacks any interest. The tonal variety also helps, with everything from a druggy synth mantra (title track") to flamenco ("Maquillage") to some bouncy, danceable synth-pop ("Parade") to a Middle Eastern-flavored excuse for one of Fripp's arpeggiations ("Tribe") to an energetic late 70s-style Brit fusion piece ("Begin The Day"). They even get away with matching trebly funk bass to a Valium-ized synth line ("Train"). Alas, the duo's shared interest in "soundscapes" results in eight minutes of listless, spacey guitar effect improvisations ("Guide/Forgotten Steps/Image And Likeness"). Despite this, the record's a guilt-free buy for fans of either guitarist. The band is Chris Winter (sax), Chris Childs or Sara Lee (bass), Paul Beavis (drums), and Jess Lota (tablas). (JA)

The Dream Of The Blue Turtles (Sting: 1985)
Sting's first solo album. A bunch of tracks were singles ("Love I The Seventh Wave"; "Fortress Around Your Heart"; "Moon Over Bourbon Street"), of which "If You Love Somebody Set Them Free" and "Russians" were the most successful. Jazz musicians Branford Marsalis and Kenny Kirkland appear. (JA)

The Rhythmatist (Copeland: 1985)

Every Breath You Take: The Singles (1986)
We usually ignore greatest hits packages, but this one includes a remake of "Don't Stand So Close To Me" that marked the band's only reunion and got a ton of media attention at the time. (JA)

Bring On The Night (Sting: 1986)
A live record. (JA)

... Nothing Like The Sun (Sting: 1987)
The singles were "We'll Be Together" and "Englishman In New York," and there's a cover of "Little Wing" with orchestrations by Gil Evans. Marsalis and Kirkland reappear; the drummer is Manu Katché. (JA)

XYZ (Summers: 1987)
Summers' first proper solo album. (JA)

Nada Como El Sol (Sting: 1988)
A bunch of remakes translated into Spanish here, mostly based on his last record. (JA)

Mysterious Barricades (Summers: 1988)
More than any other broken-up band I can think of, the Police have retroactively ruined their reputations with artistically bankrupt solo work. I uniformly dislike Sting's solo hits and won't spend money on his albums, but based on his earlier work with Fripp I had hope for Andy Summers, who never has had a major commercial success on his own. It's too bad I landed with this turkey. There's nothing in this indulgent, pompous, and shapeless collection of instrumentals that qualifies as a real tune, much less as a finished recording. Instead, you get track after track of tedious, simplistic, down-tempo "New Age" mood music, with Summers consistently letting his digital delay do all the talking. The only other element is synth player David Hentschel, who adds, uh, like, way groovy vibes, dude. There's no rhythm section or guest players at all, just the same brain-dead formula for 13 tunes in a row, and by the end of it you feel ripped off by Summers' unwillingness to either play some chords, take an out-and-out solo, or even present a technically challenging arpeggiation. I can't recommend this for anyone, not even diehard fans or those in need of a good night's sleep - your anger over wasting money on such claptrap will keep you from getting any. (JA)

The Golden Wire (Summers: 1989)

Charming Snakes (Summers: 1990)

Soul Cages (Sting: 1991)
The band is much the same as on the previous records. Singles included "All This Time," "Mad About You," and the title track. In 1992 he had a hit with "It's Probably Me," featuring Eric Clapton. (JA)

World Gone Strange (Summers: 1991)
Another instrumental album, this time featuring Tony Levin on bass. (JA)

Invisible Threads (Summers and John Etheridge: 1993)
I've seen this one around but haven't picked it up yet. Summers had some later releases but I don't know the details. (JA)

Ten Summoner's Tales (Sting: 1993)
Sting was a hot property in 1993 and 1994, scoring hit singles like "If I Ever Lose My Faith In You," "Seven Days," "Fields Of Gold," "Demolition Man," "All For Love" (with Bryan Adams and Rod Stewart), and "Nothing 'Bout Me." (JA)

Mercury Falling (Sting: 1996)

Brand New Day (Sting: 1999)

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