❉ The Police’s collection of five albums in six years plus a bonus disc is an arresting one, writes Eoghan Lyng.
It’s all there in Dead End Job, a fast, ferocious, fiery track, Sting’s bustling bass, Andy Summers’ jangly licks and Stewart Copeland’s thunder playing on one of Sting’s more aggressive vocals. Tight and tackling, the Police produced four fantastic albums, their first two a hybrid of punk and reggae, the latter two a collection of career winning sophisticated songs, with only the meandering middle child Zenyatta Mondatta (1980) the only blot on the band’s six year recording career.
Sting’s song-writing and singing prowess have often taken away from his wizardly bass skills, tidily playing with Copeland’s wayward shuffles. So high was their musicianship that few could take The Police seriously as an emerging punk band – and this was before Andy Summers joined. Initially joining as a fourth member, when it was apparent that Summers’ skills were superior to their other guitar player, Henri Padavoni was ousted in 1977, and the classic Police line-up recorded their debut album.
It was a corking one and their second, Regatta de Blanc (1978) was even better. The band had made the transition both visually and internally. Bolstered by the success of hit Roxanne, Sting replaced Copeland as band’s chief songwriter (Copeland had penned and produced their song Fall Out featuring Padavoni). As Sting’s popularity with fans and presses grew, rifts began to grow between the rhythm section, by Synchronicity (1983), the three bandmates had to record apart in different parts of the same studio.
Which it makes more interesting to realise that Blanc, the album least dominated by Sting’s songs, is also their most complete, the searing title track embodied by all three playing with reggae glee, Copeland’s Does Everybody Stare and Contact more flavourful frisson to Sting’s more earnest lyrics.
If Summers had yet to find a songwriting voice (if he ever did, see Mother), he could still write the most seductive of hooks, Death Wish and Walking On The Moon especially electric, and the three come together with unity that makes The Police’s most beloved single Message In The Bottle the repeatable classic it is.
De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da said everything about the lack of direction heard on their third record, but Ghosts In The Machine saw their evolution to more Parisienne pop; the keyboard-oriented Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic and Invisible Sun showed a more thoughtful side to Sting unheard in tracks about literary prostitutes or island castaways (Grace Jones had also covered Demolition Man, a further seal to Sting’s songwriting abilities).
The increased use of keyboards upset Copeland and Summers, and as Sting had become less interested in anyone’s songs but his own, Synchronicity (1983) was inevitably their last. It was a monumental success, a huge transatlantic hit, and turned The Police into the biggest band in the world. It’s easy to chastise Sting for the selfishness of a solo career, but when he sings with such purity on heart trodden classics King of Pain and Every Breath You Take, could he really be blamed for that?
Copeland, annoyed that his drums were being sidelined, now had the free reign to free style as he chose on Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumble Fish, which started a career for Copeland as a soundtrack composer, leaving Summers the only member who never truly found a post-Police identity. And that’s not important that he didn’t. Summers was a guitarist of romance, attack, contradiction and pop sensibility, bringing success to The Police they likely could never have achieved with Padavoni and The Police’s collection is an arresting one.
The sixth disc is an assortment of odds and sods and B-sides over the six year studio career (very odd in the case of Summers’ cannibalistic Friends, B-side to the Lolita tinted Don’t Stand So Close To Me). It also shows the band’s calibre was never less than stellar; however they felt about one another, Copeland and Sting could always put down on a tight groove over which Summers could play a series of inspired guitar licks. The politically oriented Landlord features one of Summers’ crazier guitar solos, animal in Yardbird pyrotechnics. Pop rock A Sermon sounds prophetically like a Bryan Adams song (long before either he or Sting sang about Robin Hood), Shambelle is another enjoyable jazz shuffle (featuring that distinctive cymbal work Copeland would later play on Peter Gabriel’s Red Rain).
The bass-laden title track is fun and funky (their fourth album was recorded in Quebec) and Low Life could have been an A-side for any lesser band (it has one of Sting’s more brittle vocals). Sting and Summers co-write Murder By Numbers (released as a cassette bonus track on Synchronicity) proved the band never lost their deliciously dark taste of humour, while Summers’ Someone To Talk You is as affectingly bleak about divorce as Sting’s Wrapped Around Your Finger. The Truth Hits Everybody remix is a little sloppy but closing track Once Upon A Daydream makes up with that oomph only The Police could deliver, with balladeering lyrics that point a fine finger Sting would write for himself in 1985. It’s the history of The Police on one disc.
❉ The Police – ‘Every Move You Make: The Studio Recordings’ (Half-Speed Mastered Six Vinyl LP Box Set) released 16 November 2018.
❉ Pre-order is available now at https://ThePolice.lnk.to/EveryMoveYouMake
❉ Eoghan Lyng is a writer, English teacher, full time lover of life.