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one hundred billion bottles washed up on the shore

 

the Police

 

The Police fused reggae, punk, and jazz. Whoop-de-doo. They made quite a few good songs, though! Even Stewart Copeland wrote a couple good ones!

lineup: Stewart Copeland (drums, piano, occasional vocals); Sting (vocals, bass, ego); Andy Summers (shimmery echoey guitars, guitar synth, horrid vocals on that one song)

review index: Outlandos d'Amour / Reggatta de Blanc / Zenyatta Mondatta / Ghost in the Machine / Synchronicity / Live

solos & sides:

Sting: Nothing Like the Sun / The Soul Cages / Ten Summoner's Tales
Andy Summers: XYZ

missing albums: none

apex: Reggatta de Blanc
nadir: Zenyatta Mondatta
overlooked: n/a


Outlandos d'Amour - 1978

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: Roxanne, Can't Stand Losing You, So Lonely
Worst songs: Be My Girl/Sally, Masoko Tanga

 

Out of the gate, the Police delivered a pretty good set of songs. On this album more than any others, they show their punk influences (c.f. "Next to You", the chorus of "So Lonely", "Peanuts"). They also begin their infusion of reggae, most obviously on the hit single "Roxanne".

The songwriting is also strong already, with only a couple of misfires: "Be My Girl"/"Sally" is mostly a stupid monologue about a sexual aid, and "Masoko Tanga" is a dull instrumental (not their last, unfortunately). The other songs are really good, though! Overall, this is an excellent first effort.


Reggatta de Blanc - 1979

Rating: ****
Best songs: Message in a Bottle, Walking on the Moon, Bring on the Night, The Bed's Too Big Without You, etc.
Worst songs: Deathwish, It's Alright for You

 

Can you say, early masterpiece? I knew you could.

Yes, Sting 'n the Boyz created one of their strongest sets of songs, equalled only by Synchronicity. The album contains no less than four classics -- "Message in a Bottle", "Bring on the Night", "Walking on the Moon", and "The Bed's Too Big Without You" -- that, had they been an EP, would alone get the ****1/2 rating.

But nothing's ever that simple, is it?

Yes, there's some material that may be (oh no!) considered filler: "Deathwish" springs instantly to mind, as well as "It's Alright For You", which sounds like a leftover from the previous album. But those are the only real duffers on the album. Even the instrumental (well, more or less) "Reggatta de Blanc", while nothing particularly special, is a whole lot more interesting than the crappy instrumentals that fill up Zenyatta Mondatta.

And yes, Stewart Copeland's songs rock. The paranoid "Does Everyone Stare", the loser anthem "On Any Other Day" (take that, Beck!), and the, er, odd, for lack of a better descriptor, "Contact" are all songs on the second side that would be highlights if "Walking on the Moon" and "The Bed's Too Big..." weren't there. Seriously. This album is very very really quite excellent. If you don't believe me, well, tough.


Zenyatta Mondatta - 1980

Rating: ***
Best songs: Don't Stand So Close to Me, Canary in a Coalmine, Driven to Tears
Worst songs: guess.

 

Sounds like a slight mis-step to me. Okay, there are the classic hits "Don't Stand So Close to Me" and "De Do Do Do De Da Da Da" and some upbeat pop tunes ("Canary in a Coalmine", "Man in a Suitcase", and "Driven to Tears"), but I have some reservations about the rest.

There are way too many instrumental/near-instrumental songs on here: "Behind My Camel" (this won a grammy?!), "Shadows in the Rain" (works the same groove for five minutes -- now I know where Tool got their inspiration), "The Other Way of Stopping", "Voices in my Head", bla bla bla. The only one I can tolerate is "Behind My Camel", which at least has an interesting riff. The Police were all great instrumentalists, but I really think their talents were best put to use in their actual, you know, songs.

Also, Stewart Copeland's songwriting is running out of steam, as "Bombs Away" proves. It tries so hard to be funny (at least, that's how it seems to me), but it fails quite badly.

This is the most uneven Police album yet. But hey, everyone ELSE loves it, so maybe I'm just talkin' outta my ass! Ah well, at least we still have Reggatta de Blanc.


Ghost in the Machine - 1981

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic, Spirits in the Material World, Invisible Sun
Worst songs: Darkness, Demolition Man

 

The mediocrity continues, though you won't catch on to it until about 15 minutes in. What Sting and those two other guys did this time was to start the album off with three great songs and put a bunch of crap in the middle.

You've probably heard the hits "Spirits in the Material World" and "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic". (WARNING: incoming aside!) The latter of these two songs contains the first appearance of those stupid lyrics about 'a story of a thousand rainy days... it's a big enough umbrella', which would re-appear again on Synchronicity and that crappy Sting solo song "Seven Days". Why, Sting, why? Do you get some sort of tantric pleasure out of shoving those lines down our throats again and again?!

Uh... where was I?

Oh yeah. The other great song is "Invisible Sun", Sting's Irish political commentary. And hey, it's not preachy! Good work, Sting, you kept your ego under control for five minutes!

After that? Shit. Well, there's "J'Aurais Toujours Faim De Toi" (loosely translated: there is a duck in your elevator*), a horny rocker (Phil Collins all over again! AHHHH!!!) with French lyrics. (WARNING: another aside!) Here's a question: why are French lyrics automatically derided as being 'pretentious'? Would, say, the Italian in the Beatles' "Sun King" be more or less pretentious than the French in their "Michelle"? Can I use Esperanto in a song without being seen as pretentious as the guy that uses Latin?

Ahh, crap, I need to stop doing those asides.

Side one ends with "Demolition Man", which is about as good (and as long) as the film was. (okay, I never saw the film, but with a title like that, I can't imagine it's any better than, say, "Street Fighter") Side two contains a few real stinkers: "Darkness", in particular, is a formless, aimless jam. And then there's "One World (Not Three)". Whoops, so much for Sting not being preachy. Anyway, the relative highlights on side two are "Secret Journey", "Omegaman" (Andy Summers' songwriting would quickly nosedive, as Synchronicity will show) and the frenetic "Too Much Information".

Sting called this album "dark", I call it "dreary". Or "dull".

Today's review was brought to you by the letter 'd'.

 

* apologies to Dave Barry.

Postscript (7.30.01): I'm upping the rating by 1/2 -- the second side is still pretty crappy, but I really like "Secret Journey" now. And the first four songs kick butt!


Synchronicity - 1983

Rating: ****
Best songs: Synchronicity II, Wrapped Around Your Finger, Synchronicity I, Every Breath You Take
Worst songs: Mother, King of Pain

 

On this, their final album, the Police dropped their artistic pretentions (for the most part) and just made a bunch of enjoyable, catchy songs. In fact, I would go so far as to say this is my favorite Police album.

What's bad about this album? Well, one song springs to mind instantly: "Mother". If you haven't heard the song, consider yourself lucky. If you have heard the song, you think it's abysmal too, unless you have a history of mental illness. "King of Pain" is side two's only miss, a song which epitomizes the word 'suck'.

Okay, it's not that bad, but I wish Sting would've saved it for one of his crappy solo albums.

While I'm on the subject, I don't really think this sounds like a Sting solo album. Why not? It's too good! I haven't heard one of his solo albums that hasn't been awful. Hey, here's a mini-review of his latest album, Brand New Day: "A Thousand Years" is cool. A couple other songs are okay. The rest is crap.

Anyway, the rest of Synchronicity is great. Yes, even "O My God" and "Miss Gradenko". Trust me!


Live - 1995

Rating: ***
Best songs: uh...
Worst songs: er...

 

Two discs of live Police. How charming.

Well, you certainly can tell the difference between the early band and the later band. Early on, it was just Sting, Stu, and Andy. With the Synchronicity concert, it's the aforementioned three plus backing vocalists and a bunch of synthesizers. Early on, they were willing to jam (c.f. "So Lonely", "The Bed's Too Big Without You"), but the arrangements are a lot more stiff on disc 2.

Oh, the actual album? It's good, if nonessential. The only bad part is a couple crappy songs in the track listing ("Be My Girl/Sally", "King of Pain") and the terrible sound of Sting's voice cracking as he tries to hit a high note on "Roxanne". If you're a hardcore Police fan, this might tickle your fancy, but I think I'll stick to the regular albums.


Postscript: Solo Albums and Side Projects

Thanks to my addiction to cheap records and cassettes, I've got a few of the Cops' solo albums. Not just Sting albums, but also an Andy Summers one! Incredible, isn't it?


Sting, Nothing Like the Sun - 1987

Rating: ***
Best Songs: The Lazarus Heart, Englishman in New York, Fragile
Worst Songs: Rock Steady, Little Wing, Sister Moon

 

Sting actually was able to create a decent album! Incredible! It would be better if it was just a single-LP album, instead of the double album it is. But I won't complain too much.

The first LP has three great pop songs: "The Lazarus Heart", "Be Still My Beating Heart", and "Englishman in New York". I could point out minor flaws in the songs (that annoying jazzy break in "The Lazarus Heart", the endlessly repeating pizzicato strings and completely-out-of-place drum fill in "Englishman"), but there's no denying that these are great songs. The second half of LP One also contains the wonderful ballad "Fragile" and "They Dance Alone", which is a little overlong, but still worth listening to. In fact, the only really bad song on LP Uno is "History Will Teach Us Nothing", which isn't very interesting except maybe for the sax parts.

Unfortunately, LP Deux is crap. There are a couple good songs, "We'll Be Together" (aside from the cloying lyrics, it's an okay synth-rocker) and "Straight to My Heart" (I like the shuffly rhythm, but the "Ave Maria"-ish chorus is annoying), but "Rock Steady" is a stupid story-song retelling the story of Noah's ark, and the cover of "Little Wing" ends up sounding more like Eric Clapton than Jimi Hendrix. And the album ends with an inconsequential little ditty called "The Secret Marriage".

It's still impressive that Sting did make a somewhat-good album! Incredible! I mean, think about it -- the man who brought us Ten Summoner's Tales and Brand New Day did this!


Sting, The Soul Cages - 1991

Rating: **
Best Songs: Mad About You, All This Time
Worst Songs: Saint Agnes and the Burning Train

 

This album starts with one of the most depressing songs I've ever heard, "The Island of Souls". Luckily, it doesn't remain incredibly depressing, but it is rather a chore to listen all the way through.

Side one contains some enjoyable songs, such as the uptempo "All This Time" and the vaguely eastern-sounding "Mad About You" (much better than the TV show of the same name, I'm sure). I lose interest at about this point. The only thing I can remember about side two is the boring instrumental at the beginning. Sorry, Sting, but you're putting me to sleep.


Sting, Ten Summoner's Tales - 1995

Rating: *1/2
Best Songs: Fields of Gold, If I Ever Lose My Faith In You, Shape of My Heart
Worst Songs: Seven Days, It's Probably Me, She's Too Good for Me, etc

 

Okay, this is what I expect from a Sting solo album. Ponderous 'educated' lyrics affixed to boring pop pap. And he uses that stupid 'it's a big enough umbrella' line again! AAARGH!!!

That's not to say it's all bad. The singles "If I Ever Manage to Type This Whole Thing Out" and "Fields of Gold" are a well-written pop song and a nice ballad, respectively. "Shape of My Heart", while nowhere near the Backstreet Boys' classic song of the same name, is a decent song. And "Love Is Stronger Than Justice", while being another stupid story-song, at least has a decent chorus. And it's Sting doing country-rock! What fun! The rest sucks, though, so you might want to avoid this one.


Andy Summers, XYZ - 1987

Rating: ***1/2
Best Songs: How Many Days, Almost There, The Only Road, Nowhere
Worst Songs: XYZ, The Change

 

Andy Summers is best known for his guitar playing, his "new age" music, or maybe that awful song off Synchronicity. This album has little to do with any of these, except of course for the guitar playing. And yes, he's singing on this album, but his vocals are usually doubled with female singers. And he doesn't have that bad a voice -- he sounds a little like, I dunno, Mark Knopfler, maybe?

Anyway, the music is rooted in 80's pop -- most of the percussion is courtesy drum machines, and co-producer David Hentschel adds oh-so-80's keyboards to the mix. However, Andy's guitar is still prominent in the mix, so it's not pure synthpop or anything.

As for the actual tunes on here: there are a few absolutely gorgeous numbers, "How Many Days", "The Only Road", "Almost There" and "Nowhere". There's also a good pop number in "Love Is the Strangest Way" (ripping off Sting's "Love Is the Seventh Wave"?), though the melody is a little repetative. And "Scary Voices" is humorous -- is it a dour plodding number, or maybe a clichéd sound collage? No! It's a bouncy synth-horn led song! Ha!

The only really low points to this album are a few songs that just try to get by on atmosphere alone -- the title track ("new age" instrumental pap) and "The Change" are the most guilty of this. But overall, I'd say this is a much better buy (if you can find it, that is) than one of his instrumental "new age" albums.


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