Friday, September 9, 2011

The Police 5 to 1

In 1978, John Colucci, my personal godfather of punk and new wave musical taste, introduced me to the latest trio that was making noise in the UK, The Police.  I had reason to trust that Colucci was pointing me in the right direction.  After all, this was the guy who opened my mind to Talking Heads, Squeeze, Devo, and The Ramones back when these bands were playing clubs in NYC.   He talked me into buying Outlandos d’Amour on cassette, and the rest, as they say, is history. 
The Police, for all you loyal readers born after 1983, consisted of guitarist Andy Summers, drummer Stewart Copeland, and the spike-haired one-name bass player, Sting.  Maybe you’ve heard Sting when accidently pressing one of your parent’s easy listening station car radio presets.  Before he mellowed, he fronted one of the great bands of his generation. 
The band released 5 studio albums during their too short 5 year collaboration, and I have spent countless hours since their break up arguing about the relative merits of each Police album.  You know us middle age guys – we love rankings and lists.  I am finally tired of the partisan bickering and the narrow minded debating points.  The time has come to plant my flag right here in cyberspace for all to see and judge.  Time to make my case, subjective though it may be. 
For your reading pleasure, here are the 5 studio albums from The Police ranked from worst to first:

Synchronicity (1983) – Yes, this album featured the band’s biggest hit, Every Breath You Take, the only Police song to reach #1 on the U.S. charts.  It was also the first release without pictures of the 3 band members on the cover, so in retrospect, it was a subtle signal of their impending break up.  The tone of the album reflected Sting’s emotional devastation after his recent marital break-up.  Think King of Pain.  Think Wrapped Around Your Finger.  They’re great songs, but also kind of a bummer, don’t you think?  If you could get past the sadness of the record, with its imagery of dinosaurs hovering over a home of unsuspecting human appetizers, there’s 3 minutes and 5 seconds of real pain listening to Mother, quite possibly the worst song of all time (well, after The Streak by Ray Stevens).  Tea in the Sahara never did much for me, though I did bang the car dashboard drums whenever Synchronicity I would come on the radio.  Rank: 5 
Zenyatta Mondatta (1980) – The Police went global with this record, in sound and lyrics.  I love the reggae feel of the whole collection and its far left liberal messages appealed to me during my collegiate indoctrination.  From the politically aware, Driven to Tears and Bombs Away, to the “Ode to Globetrotting” ditty, Man in a Suitcase, these international sounding tracks were designed for pop music consumption.  What hurts this album in the rankings for me was De Do Do Do De Da Da Da.  I mean, what the hell was that all about?  Don’t Stand So Close to Me, the other big hit from this release was nothing but the story of a pedophilic pervert.  These two most played songs from the record happen to be my least favorite from the album, and that hurt the ranking.  Rank: 4

Regatta de Blanc (1979) – Literally translated to White Reggae, this album did not elevate The Police after their first release, nor did it hurt their commercial viability.  On this record, you heard the beginnings of the end of their punk phase.  While Message in a Bottle ultimately became what I consider to be their greatest song, the album itself offered a ton of beautiful songs with a more enhanced sound, more polish, and higher production values.  It still included that Sting sense of humor, first immortalized in Be My Girl – Sally, with the silly, On Any Other Day.   A more mature outlook on love was crystallized in the haunting The Bed’s Too Big Without You, a song in that stood in stark contrast to the young man killing himself over lost love in the Outlandos d’Amour hit, I Can’t Stand Losing You.  The band and its members were growing up.  Walking on the Moon received its fair share of FM airplay, but after the raw power of Outlandos d”Amour, this tune was a major disappointment.  Overall, Regatta de Blanc is an underrated undertaking, and I encourage each of you to spin it one more time, front to back.  It is simple, clean and fun.  There have been times when I would have ranked it first.  Rank: 3
Outlandos d’Amour (1978) – The one was very close to being my first choice on this list, since I have a known bias for debut albums.  I have an affinity for bands in their original state, before handlers and egotistical producers get a hold of them and water down the sound for commercial distribution.  This record grabbed you from Track 1, the hard driving, Next to You, complete with off-mic shouts of pure rock and roll emotion.  It delivered the raw sound of a 3 piece punk band, but with much better musician play.  Stewart Copeland on drums was a revelation.  The Police introduced themselves as a force, but you always sensed a tongue in cheek quality that reassured you that the group wasn’t taking themselves too seriously.  For me, Outlandos d’Amour perfectly captured the teenage angst so critical to all successful rock (So Lonely, Can’t Standing Losing You).  Rank: 2

Ghost in the Machine (1981) – I have some regrets in life, and one is most certainly skipping The Police/Go-Gos tourstop in Philly in the fall of 1981.  I would have seen The Police at their peak.  In my opinion, Ghost in the Machine was when the boys were hitting on all cylinders.  This was the album that made them great.  Every Little Thing She Does is Magic was a monster hit.  Invisible Sun, with its brooding and hopeful lyrics, and its slow pulsing beat, was hypnotic.  Hungry for You had one riff that repeated over and over, and yet it worked.  The theme of the record fit the times, the dawn of the 1980s and the rise of technology.  Remember signing up for time at the computer lab in the early 80s?  Demolition Man was a song that spawned a movie (albeit a bad movie).   One World (Not Three), Rehumanize Yourself, Spirits in the Material World – all great.  Rolling Stone magazine agreed with me, and ranked it the highest of any Police album on their all-time list (#322).  Cover artwork of their faces in LED display is an album art classic, and proudly hangs framed on my wall to this day.  Rank: 1

Thanks, John Colucci, for getting me on board with The Police so early.  Too bad you were wrong about the King Bees.

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