Though neither bassist/singer Sting nor veteran guitarist Andy Summers would have gone in this direction individually, they became intrinsic to ex-Curved Air drummer Stewart Copeland’s notion of being new wavers in 1977, when it was still pretty new. As a band, the three (Summers having replaced original guitarist Henri Padovani after one single) worked in earnest to stake out their own musical turf, even probing a few of rock’s boundaries. Their considerable abilities eventually yielded the Police sound: rock and reggae interlocked in proportions varying from number to number, further spiced with musical influences like Summers’ quasi-classical harmonic overtones and Sting’s reggae-into-jazz vocalisms.
Outlandos d’Amour is the brisk, brash initial Police barrage of bright, featherweight tunes (like “Roxanne,” “Born in the 50’s,” “Can’t Stand Losing You”) and deceptively clever riffs and rhythms. It’s pithy, infectious and seductive, sometimes all at once. Only a silly joke in dubious taste and Sting’s pair of “let’s own up” diatribes are irksome, but those can be ignored — musically, they aren’t bad anyway.
Sting came up short of material on Reggatta de Blanc and only one of Copeland’s attempts at taking up the slack is truly spot-on, funny and catchy. All the same, “Message in a Bottle” is an all-around gem, and if Sting’s other material isn’t stellar, the performances are: effective vocal emoting and instrumentally sparkling tours de force like the title track (which also shows the virtue of space in music). The sound was further enhanced for Zenyatta Mondatta, and that same instrumental excellence brightens much of the record, but too much of the album relies on just that. The more direct cuts are too cute for words (hence “De Do Do Do…”) but, like bubblegum (the music and the candy), they stick to you.
Ghost in the Machine was critically considered the milestone marking the threesome’s arrival as Major Artistes, but this critic begs to differ. Aside from a half- step forward (mainly Sting’s saxual experimentation) the record shows the Police taking several giant leaps in the direction of the rock mainstream at the expense of at least half the songs (which are, in and of themselves, okay to pretty good).
Synchronicity (or at least “Every Breath You Take”) pitched the Police into the ranks of commercial rock superstars, but most of the record simply can’t be taken seriously by anyone but a chowderhead and/or indiscriminate fan. The “humor” is flat, the “experiments” with jazz shadings and electronic touches more yawn-provoking than mood-evoking; in the end, it seems just an overgrown platinum molehill. Sting’s “love me — I’m the sexy, intellectual and vulnerable man of the ’80s” off-the-record image is hard to divorce from his songs, especially when he whines about being the “King of Pain.” And Iron Maiden has churned out epics as gripping as “Synchronicity II.” The Police have clearly become the bloated dinosaur they once complained about. But “Every Breath You Take” is every bit a classic, a surf-music rhythm line utterly transmogrified, relentlessly driving Sting’s declaration of love-hate-obsession. So skip the LP and get the 45, which even edits out the song’s draggier bits.
The posthumous singles compilation named for that huge hit features a dozen Police standards, including a 1986 remake of “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” in lieu of the 1980 original. The British Compact Hits CD-5 contains four songs drawn from the first three albums. The Live! album is a two-disc set of shows from 1979 and 1983. There’s also a Police box set.
Though possessing competence on all the necessary instruments, not to mention a homely yet winning boy-next- doorish voice, Stewart Copeland — in his first solo turn, a one-off in the guise of Welsh looney Klark Kent — turns in less a DIY showcase than a mildly amusing show of self-indulgence, pressed on ten inches of green vinyl in a “K”-shaped jacket, no less! There are plums to be found in the tongue-in-cheek pop-punk of “Don’t Care” and a clever Zappaesque instrumental, “Theme for Kinetic Ritual,” but the other six tracks are merely variations on those two styles.
Three years later, Copeland began his post-Police career in film and TV soundtracks by writing, producing and playing (except horns and strings) the music for Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumble Fish. The atmospheric instrumentals downplay drums; some are strongly enough structured that they could support lyrics. “Don’t Box Me In,” an actual song co-written and vocalized by ex-Wall of Voodooer Stan Ridgway, is easily the album’s highlight.
As a movie, Brimstone and Treacle has lots of mystical mood, with Sting effective as a rogue busy smudging the line between good and evil. The soundtrack album consists of one Go-Go’s track, a Squeeze item, two choral pieces and some miscellaneous music by Sting, with and without his two compatriots, successful only on the evocative title instrumental and the band’s resurrection (from Sting’s early days in Last Exit) of the smoldering “I Burn for You.”
Copeland’s second solo record is the soundtrack to an African safari video. Described on the sleeve as “a curious blend of musical snatches from Tanzania, Kenya, Burundi, Zaire, the Congo and Buckinghamshire,” The Rhythmatist is variously a rock album with Africanisms layered on and a rock interpretation (or imitation) thereof. The blurry line between what is genuine and what Copeland has made of whole Anglo-American cloth is disturbing, to say the least, and there’s obviously real African music where this dubious rock star contraption came from. Still, the invigorating record sounds lovely, especially thanks to his collaborator, Zairean vocalist Ray Lema. (Nangadeef, the veteran’s subsequent American solo debut, offers an uneasy, occasionally attractive commercial blend of soukous, jazz, pop and computerized dance-funk.)
The Equalizer, another one-man-orchestra instrumental outing, collects Copeland music done for the titular TV show, along with unrelated but harmonious new compositions. Favoring keyboards (seemingly piano and organ; the sketchy credits indicate reliance on a Fairlight synthesizer) and strong rhythms, Copeland’s technically impressive work here occasionally recalls some of Keith Emerson’s lighter crypto-classical moments.
Copeland’s next long-term project was Animal Logic, an ill-conceived sophisto-rock trio with singer/songwriter Deborah Holland and master bassist Stanley Clarke. On Animal Logic, the superstar rhythm section (which actually doesn’t blend very well: Copeland is far more suited to work with a hacker like his old bandmate Sting than an overachiever like Clarke) takes an accomplished back seat to Holland, guest guitarist Michael Thompson and jazzy guests. A strange and uneasy blend of instrumental excellence and creative mediocrity.