I’m not really sure when I latched on to The Police. I mean, their music was everywhere when I was a kid, a presence as ubiquitous in the mid-80’s as Tab and nuclear fear. It wasn’t until the mid-90’s though that I started to own The Police as my band. I think I latched on to Sting’s ability to blend both the pop, the punk, and the pastoral, a quality I find I admire in a lot of 80’s acts, to include U2, Genesis, and Peter Gabriel as well.
Anyway, The Police were one of the first great classic rock bands whose albums I really dove into deeply. And The Police are truly great! Given Sting’s musical trajectory following their demise, it’s probably best they did break up after only 5 albums, but given the quality of those records, one can’t help but wonder what might have been.
So here we go…The Police get the preferential treatment!
OUTLANDOS D'AMOUR: Despite featuring some absolute classics, from the singles (“Roxanne” and “Can’t Stand Losing You” (which is the better of the two)) to the deep cuts (“Next to You” and “Truth Hits Everybody”), Outlandos is just too muscular for me, a little too crunchy and harsh. It’s good and all, but not a classic debut by any means, and if The Police had only released this one LP way back when, they would have been written off and forgotten as one of the lesser UK punk outfits.
SYNCHRONICITY: Ranking Synchronicity at #4 should tell you just how great The Police’s catalog is. There are 4 absolute classics here (the singles + “Synchronicity II”), and a handful of other solid cuts (“Walking In Your Footsteps”, “Synchronicity I”, “Tea in the Sahara”), but overall the biggest problem with The Police's final album is that Sting was beginning to leave planet Earth behind. The band’s punk roots are almost entirely gone, and The Police without a punk (or even post-punk) ethos is, well, just Sting and his smooth jazz vibe. Additionally, “Mother” is a big aural fart in the middle of the record, and “Miss Gradenko” and “O My God” aren't bad tunes but completely lack teeth.
REGGATTA DE BLANC: A true classic, and their third best record. They were still pretty punk at this point, but Sting’s focus as a songwriter and the band’s distinctive sound (er, white reggae!) really come together here. “Message In a Bottle” is the band’s signature tune, one of the greatest singles of all time, and “Walking on the Moon” is pure brilliance of course, but it’s lesser known tracks like “Bring On the Night” and “The Bed’s Too Big Without You” (so sexy) that make Reggata such a gem. "Eee-yohhhh, eee-yeeaaaaa, eeee-yeaaaa-ohhhhh!!!"
ZENYATTA MONDATTA: For a long time this was my favorite Police record, and it truly is a masterpiece. The band had found “their sound” here, and there’s just no low point, only a set of competing and varied high points. Even Andy Summers' strange instrumental “Behind My Camel” fits in perfectly here unlike, say, the ridiculous “Mother” on Synchronicity. The lesser known tracks like “Man in a Suitcase” and “Driven to Tears” are gems just the same as the big hits ("Don't Stand So Close To Me", "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da"). I could listen to this record just about endlessly: it’s a perfect synthesis of weird new wave pop rock and creative idiosyncrasy.
GHOST IN THE MACHINE: Once upon a time Ghost was my least favorite Police record. After all, the 3 hits are front-loaded, glorious in their own right, but that tends to make Ghost seem all down hill with track 4. Yet performance-wise, Ghost is the high point of the band's career, and I sense that deep down its their most conceptually-focused record as well. It rocks so hard, yet it ponders so deeply: this is a cosmic record, and by the time you hit “Secret Journey” you realize that Sting is truly grappling with life, universe, and everything here. When the record closes with Stewart Copeland’s exquisite “Darkness”, the search for transcendence feels like its for nought: as Sting whines "I wish I'd never woke up this morning / Life was easy when it was boring" you can feel reality hitting back. But then again, it sounds oh so gloriously weird and beautiful.