Monday, March 26, 2012


No rating (compilation)
For complete track listing, see here. The following is a listing of the unreleased studio tracks, which the bulk of this review will focus on
1. Fall Out; 2. Nothing Achieving; 3. Dead End Job; 4. Landlord; 5. Visions of the Night; 6. Friends; 7. A Sermon; 8. Shambelle; 9. Flexible Strategies; 10. Low Life; 11. How Stupid Mr. Bates; 12. A Kind of Loving; 13. Someone To Talk To; 14. I Burn For You; 15. Once Upon a Daydream
Best song: among the unreleased tracks, SOMEONE TO TALK TO

If you want (almost) every single thing The Police ever officially released, look no further than this 4-disc box set, which you can buy at your nearest record store or steal at your nearest wireless hot spot! It has all 5 studio albums, plus all of the group's non-album b-sides and a smattering of live tracks that also appeared as b-sides. The live tracks are all decently performed, but aren't really revelatory in any way, even if "Man In a Suitcase" is much better when performed at a fast pace. Also included are a mono remix of "The Bed's Too Big Without You" (pointless) and the '86 remix of "Don't Stand So Close To Me" (terrible), but it's still worth it to get all five albums and some great b-sides all in one convenient package (although if you actually listen to the albums on CD, be warned that Regatta is split between two discs, which is obviously annoying).

Anyway, the albums are obviously all great, but I've already talked about those, so let's look at the 15 studio tracks that never made it onto an album, shall we? Leading off this collection is both sides of the group's first single, featuring original guitarist Henry Padovani. "Fall Out" and "Nothing Achieving" are pretty basic punk songs written by Copeland, but they're catchy and Sting gives enthusiastic vocal performances on both. Copeland also played rhythm guitar on the songs, so Henry literally has fifteen seconds of fame playing two brief guitar solos, and they're fine for this type of song, but nobody but the most hardcore devotee to the punk aesthetic is gonna mourn his loss. We're introduced to Andy Summers on the fun group-credited b-side to "Can't Stand Losing You," "Dead End Job," and it's one of the best "punk" number the group ever did. Continuing onto the Regatta-era songs, the Copeland/Sting collaboration "Landlord" is a relative throwaway, but Sting's "Visions of the Night" is great and probably the closest the band ever came to doing a pure hard rock song. From the Zenyatta era there's Andy's "Friends," a spoken word piece about cannibalism using the "Behind My Camel" guitar tone, giving ample proof (as if any more was needed after "Sally" and "Mother") that Andy is a very weird dude. Love the song, though, and wish it had made the album instead of "Behind My Camel." Stew's "A Sermon" isn't up to his best work, but that "There's no excuse, for the people you've abused" section has a great hook.

Things get a little iffier when we reach the Ghost outtakes. Andy's instrumental "Shambelle" is interesting but overlong, and Sting's "Low Life" is fine, but "Flexible Strategies" absolutely sucks. Not as much as a couple of songs the band recorded for the Brimstone and Treacle soundtrack though--"How Stupid Mr. Bates" and "A Kind of Loving" are EASILY the worst songs in the Police catalog--no interesting instrumentation and bizarre, annoying screaming make me wish they would just end already every time I try to listen to them. "I Burn For You," included in the film but later used as the UK "Wrapped Around Your Finger" b-side, is significantly better, but not as good as the other two Synchronicity b-sides. "Once Upon a Daydream" has a cool ethereal atmosphere in its Summers-penned music, and the lyrics, about getting revenge on a girlfriend's father for beating her and killing her unborn baby, are incredibly chilling. Best of all, though, is Andy's "Someone To Talk To." He doesn't really sing the song, it's more of a mumble, but I've grown so accustomed to how he performs it that I'm glad Sting refused. And just when the endless repetitions of the chorus are becoming monotonous, he starts throwing out a bunch of cool guitar lines. Now, I like "Mother," but the fact that it was on Synchronicity and "Someone To Talk To" was relegated to b-side status makes me rather suspicious that Sting didn't want Andy's best work on an actual album (maybe he didn't want a repeat of "Omegaman"?). Anyway, great song.

I admit that none of these songs, except maybe "Fall Out," would really be considered essential listening, but if you want to get all the albums anyway, why not just get the boxed set? Most of the songs are good, and all the crappy ones are bunched together at the end of Disc 3 anyway. Worth trying to find.


1. Synchronicity I; 2. Walking in Your Footsteps; 3. Oh My God; 4. Mother; 5. Miss Gradenko; 6. Synchronicity II; 7. Every Breath You Take; 8. King of Pain; 9. Wrapped Around Your Finger; 10. Tea in the Sahara; 11. Murder By Numbers

So here it is, the album that both turned the band from a bunch of fairly well-known and well-regarded former punks into international pop superstars, the album that won the band a Grammy for something other than their instrumentals. It's also the album that killed the band. And other than Abbey Road, it's probably the best final album before a breakup not brought about by a member's death out there. Yeah, there are some problems--just from listening to this album, you'd have absolutely no idea why I and most other reviews blow our collective loads over Stewart Copeland's drumming, as he mostly sticks to just providing the backbeat and nothing more, and Andy is only sporadically involved (when he is, though, he's often the best thing about the song). However, the quality of songs presented here more than make up for this flaw. Sting may have sold his soul to the devil to do it, but he made a pretty spectacular pop album (in fairness to the man, I've heard from many reputable sources that his first solo album is actually quite good. I do plan to get it one day, but I'm pretty backlogged on new stuff to listen to right now).

Now everybody knows about that hit-packed second side, but right now I wanna talk about the rather more maligned first side. Most people give props to the two title tracks (although often not nearly as much as they deserve), but the middle four songs have to be the most reviled stretch in the Police discography, which utterly mystifies me. I'd MUCH rather listen to these songs than most of the mid section of Ghost ("Rehumanize Yourself" being the obvious exception). "Walking in Your Footsteps" and "Oh My God" are interesting compositions, people! Not as focused as the pop songs later in the album, but all the more fun in the way they kind of sprawl. I never want to skip these tracks. No, they're not the best songs Sting ever wrote for the band, but they're hardly the worst, either. People like "Hungry For You" and don't like these? The fuck? "Footsteps" in particular is a pretty damn awesome song, it's got a great chorus and lyrics about dinosaurs! I guess the fact that I'm 18 and writing reviews of classic rock bands means I'm rather attracted to dinosaurs. And "Oh My God" has the final awesome Sting bassline, some of Stew's most alive drumming on the album, and a bizarre repeat of a quote of "Magic" ("It's a big enough umbrella, but it's always me that ends up getting wet"). Good songs, ladies and gentlemen! Don't let the anti-hype go to your heads!

Oh, and then there's Andy's "Mother"! Let's talk about "Mother" for a bit! From reading reviews talking about how unlistenable this damn song before actually hearing it, I assumed it was gonna on the level be a  Yoko Ono-esque screamfest or nails on a chalkboard or fucking Radio Disney or something. I mean, yeah, Andy's scream-singing on the track is hardly "good" in the traditional sense of the word, and I guess I can see why it puts some people off, but to me it's really successful in capturing the paranoid vibe he was after. The lyrics (not about Andy's mom, supposedly she was rather amused by the song) aren't the most profound thing ever put to paper, but "Every girl that I go out with becomes my mother in the end" in particular is a decent line, and I'm sure there are people who can relate to the tribulations of the protagonist of this song (full disclaimer: not me, my mother and I have a great relationship). Come on, I can't be the only one who can imagine this being sung by Buster Bluth on Arrested Development, can I? And the vaguely Eastern backing music is pretty cool too! I'm not saying the song's genius or anything, but it's severely underrated, as is Stew's "Miss Gradenko." I can see somebody hating "Mother," I guess, but I absolutely for the life of me cannot see why people hate "Miss Gradenko." It's got an absolutely amazing chorus--seriously, I think's it's the catchiest song on the whole album! And the guitar solo is pretty damn great, too--nice to hear Andy occasionally play something more traditional, even though I love him for his experimentation. A perfect two-minute pop song, and most people either just dismiss it or completely trash it, even going so far as to say that it (along with "Mother") ruing a perfect album. Are folks just trained to hate anything not credited to the main songwriter of a band, or what? I love most of Copeland's contributions to The Police discography, enough that he's the only member of the band that I have any solo work from (his album as Klark Kent is good! I'll review it one day!). Come on, there must be somebody else out there who agrees with me…

Okay, though, that's about enough about why you should love the songs you don't know or don't like, now let's talk about why you should love the ones you do! This album, as everyone knows, is responsible for three absolute MONSTER hits (and a somewhat lesser one in "Synchronicity II), and defines the Police sound to the general public to this day, despite how blatantly erroneous that is. I admit, even though I loved these songs when I heard them on the radio, I wasn't eager to check out the band because I figured, like most people, that they were a "singles band." I was obviously very mistaken, and I can see why some Police fans resent the songs for drawing the bulk of the attention given to the band (and casting the group as both an 80s pop group and Sting's backing band), but that doesn't change the fact that "Every Breath You Take," "King of Pain," and "Wrapped Around Your Finger" are great songs. So they have a little bit of an adult contemporary influence, who freaking cares? Are there any actual adult contemporary songs that have as badass of a guitar sound as "Every Breath You Take"? And maybe I'm just a sucker for lyrical dissonance, but I love the fact that it's a stalker song dressed up as a love song. Can you believe that people actually use this as a wedding song? Christ, people can be fucking stupid--I just have no idea how this can happen. Yeah, the chorus alone I can see being interpreted as vaguely romantic (although still fucking creepy) if about a spouse, but it's not like the lyrics to the rest of the song are hard to discern--the vocals are right on top of the mix! And it's not exactly cloaked in metaphor, the lyrics are pretty damn straightforward that the singer is pretty fucked up. If someone told me they were watching every breath I took, I'd  either go straight to the authorities or enjoy a night with her and then go straight to the authorities, to be determined on a case to case basis. God, people who dance to this song at their weddings are almost as stupid as people who hate "Miss Gradenko." One of the best pop songs of the 80s, for sure. "King of Pain" is hardly any worse, though, although lacking the awesome guitar work it has an even more epic chorus. "Wrapped Around Your Finger" suffers just a tiny bit from being the last in the series of awesome songs, so the fact that it's not quite as great as the four (yes, four) songs before it stands out, but that sure as shit doesn't mean it sucks! And "Murder By Numbers" (with Summers-written music) provides a nice dose of black humor to the album. I can see finding it a little dull, but I love black humor way to much to condemn the song. So "Tea in the Sahara" veers a bit too close to generic AC for my tastes, I'm fine with that. It means I don't have to call the pop one my favorite Police album.

Great as all those other songs are, there's still the matter of the title tracks. "Synchronicity I" is a great little tune to open the album, and I love listening to it, but I must admit that it does get overshadowed by its more well-known sequel to me (and the rest of the world). Yeah, I know I said "Message in a Bottle" was the best Police song, and "Does Everybody Stare" has the best lyrics, but hey, I lied. "Synchronicity II" is simply amazing, and is the track that really got me into the band in the first place. Sting turns in the performance of the career, and holy shit the lyrics are great. Don't even try to write songs about the underlying troubles in your average suburban household, people, you're not gonna top this one. Andy's guitar squawks and squeals along and provides a great underpinning to Sting's paranoid ravings, and credit where credit is due, I've given the man shit occasionally in these reviews, but the vocals on this song are simply amazing. Of course, due to repeated listenings to the song, I'll never be able to learn the actual Synchronicty theory without equating it to the Loch Ness Monster, but I don't care about that.

Yeah, this is a pop album, but it's a pop masterpiece. "Tea in the Sahara" and my annoyance over the decreased power of Stew's drumming keeps this from a 14, but it's dangerously close, and maybe in due time I'll bump it up. Any album this popular is bound to get some backlash, but this is one of those cases where the public got it right. Of course, when the band tried to reconvene, Stew broke his collarbone and he and Sting couldn't agree on which drum machine to use, so they broke up until touring in 2007. Fortunately, though, they went out on a high note, and the band's name was free from the mud its frontman's would get dragged through. Any rock collection without all 5 Police albums is sorely lacking.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


1. Spirits in the Material World; 2. Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic; 3. Invisible Sun; 4. Hungry For You (J'aurais Toujours Faim de Toi); 5. Demolition Man; 6. Too Much Information; 7. Rehumanize Yourself; 8. One World (Not Three); 9. Omegaman; 10. Secret Journey; 11. Darkness

Okay, this one's just fucking spastic. It begins with one of the best stretches of hit singles in the group's career, showcasing a rather dark pop sound, advances its way through a bizarre sax-led groove, and then ends with a return to the dark pop. The opening and closing trio are fantastic, but I'm not exactly sold on the murky middle. Also of note is that the band largely abandoned the power trio sound of their first three records (which they were already starting to move away from on Zenyatta) in favor of layers of synths, synth horns, and Sting-played sax. I don't really have a problem with this, as for the most part these elements are used well, but this is when the band stops being a band and Andy and Stew begin to be relegated to Sting's backing band (Andy himself has complained that the squabbles really started with this album). Thankfully, they are still involved enough in the sound enough to make a difference, and the best songs after the opening three were actually penned by Andy and Stew.

Those opening three songs, though...goddamn. "Spirits in the Material World" is certainly a product of its time with its focus on synths rather than guitar, but it's a great song, so who cares? I might occasionally bemoan that the synths on this album (and the next one) tend to relegate Andy's awesome guitar textures into the background on some songs, but at least the synths themselves don't really sound all that dated. It's a great opener, but it's small potatoes compared to what comes next--"Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" might just be the perfect piano-based pop song. The piano, played by session player Jean Roussel, carries the song nicely, Stew provides some nice drumming, and Andy isn't that active, but still makes his presence known. And holy SHIT that melody! The verse and chorus melodies are actually quite distinct from each other, but flow together perfectly. If you're not humming this song for days after listening to it, than there's something wrong with you! I know that some people consider this "too pop" for any "respectable" artist, but to me anyway that just comes across as ridiculously fucking pretentious. I love "complicated," "artsy" music as much as the next guy (actually a hell of a lot more, if "the next guy" is just some dude off the street), but come on, a good song is a good song, and "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" is a great song, as is the dark, brooding "Invisible Sun." The latter track features probably the best lyrics on the album, about life in a war-torn country, and is just a wonderfully haunting song.

So ends the first chunk of the album, and we now enter into the middle, funk-influenced groove section of the disc. The catalyst for this section seems to be that Mr. Sumner bought himself a saxophone and wanted to show the world he could play it, but the saxes are just sort of there, providing the texture that could just as easily be provided by synths (or, even better, by Andy's guitar!). It's not distracting or anything, and doesn't rape my eardrums like a lot of 80s sax does, but Sting is MUCH better as a bassist, as the overlong but interesting "Demolition Man" aptly shows. "Too Much Information" has a good hook, so it can stick around, but "One World (Not Three)" suffers from the fact that the old "repeat the chorus over and over again" songwriting crutch from the first album is back, but now it's preachy and socially conscious. Fuck me! I liked Sting better when he was just a singer and bassist who seemed to have a lot of trouble with women, not some god sax player who was trying to solve the world's problems. I mean, I don't even hate the song, it's quite decent and I could maybe even call it good if it was shortened by over a minute, but it's the song in the Police catalog that most shows why people might despise the guy. It's not a complete write-off, though--the complete write-off is "Hungry For You." Now, I quit French my junior year of high school because I didn't give a rat's ass and the teacher was too hard, and have barely spoken it since, but even I can tell he's butchering the pronunciations. And it's not interesting musically, either--just a simple sax riff and bassline that repeats for the entire song. What the hell is the point? To put the album over 40 minutes? This is EASILY the worst song on a Police studio album, and is, along with "Born in the 50s" one of the only two I actively dislike. I know it seems like I'm bitching a lot about this segment, but it just seems rather pointless to me, and the fact that all the songs here pretty much sound the same. The groove just interesting enough to sustain itself for 20 minutes straight.

The midsection does have one real winner (along with the good-but-not-great "Demolition Man" and "Too Much Information"--with the former shortened by about a minute and "One World" and "Hungry For You" axed, I'd actually love this stretch just as much as the rest of the album) in the Copeland collaboration "Rehumanize Yourself." Not only is it a succinct 3:10, it has the best lyrics of this section of the album. I guess since he was rewriting something Stew brought to him, Sting had to make sure what he came up with was REAL good. It's also the only song in this part that is actually melodically strong all the way through without becoming dull, which is kind of something I expect from The Police.

 But whatever, the album jumps back to greatness again with the final three tracks. "Omegaman" is the first and only time Sting would deign to sing a lyric written by Andy, and actually the record company was considering it as a single before Sting threw a hissy fit. I hate to look like I'm siding with a record company executive, but occasionally they can pull their heads out of their likely cocaine-filled asses long enough to recognize a great song. Seriously, "Omegaman" has the second best hook on the album! Who knows what gems Andy was hiding that he never presented to the band because Sting wouldn't sing them. Makes me want to check out his pop solo album. "Secret Journey" has the most interesting guitar work on the album, and for once really feels like a track the whole band worked on, like in the old days, while Stew's "Darkness" brings things to a relaxing close. "I wish I'd never woke up this morning/Life was easy, when it was boring," the song says, and we've all felt that way at some point or another. The quality of Andy and Stew's tracks on here actually makes me curious about some parallel universe where the Police were a democracy, and how history would have viewed them. On the other hand, there's very few Sting-written songs I want replaced, so I can't complain.

So, yeah, that middle part of the album is somewhat misguided, although even it has it's moments, and the opening and closing trios are both some of the best Police moments to be found. There is still a bit of filler, although this time it's because they overextend good songs instead of writing pointless ones, "One World" is somewhat annoying but OK, and "Hungry For You" sucks but is less than three minutes long. Despite how much I bitched, I still really do enjoy this album just as much as the rest of the band's discography, and hey, if you can get into the sax groove, I see no reason why it shouldn't be somebody's favorite. A solid 12 it is, as the number of classics means I can't rate it lower than Zenyatta, even with a bit of weaker material.

Oh! And the album cover is easily the band's best. I admit I had to read about it online to notice that the digital blips form a profile of each of the band members, but cut me some slack, I don't have an actual physical copy of the album to look at it. It's pretty fuckin' cool.


1. Don't Stand So Close To Me; 2. Driven To Tears; 3. When The World Is Running Down You Make The Best Of What's Still Around; 4. Canary In a Coalmine; 5. Voices Inside My Head; 6. Bombs Away; 7. De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da; 8. Behind My Camel; 9. Man In a Suitcase; 10. Shadows in the Rain; 11. The Other Way of Stopping

This is my least favorite of the Police albums, but it's still great! Also, I've seen several reviewers rank it as their best, which means there's never gonna be a consensus about their best album--I've seen all of their albums ranked best by a web reviewer except Ghost in the Machines, and there's no reason why that one won't be one day. People always like to think of the Police as a singles band, but that's only true in the sense that the singles were usually the best songs on the album, not in the sense that they had two hit singles and a bunch of filler. In fact, this is the only album by the band where I see filler as a serious problem, and even then they can be somewhat excused for it. As with Regatta, this album was recorded under a time crunch--they finished it the day they started their world tour! Unfortunately, Regatta could be made up of songwriting snippets Sting and Stew had had laying around for several years, but Zenyatta doesn't have that luxury. This leads to two instrumentals that are the very definition of filler, as well as a slightly smaller number of all time Police classics. Don't get me wrong, neither Andy's "Behind My Camel" or Stew's "The Other Way of Stopping" are terrible--the former has those cool treated guitar tones, and the latter has a pretty intense midsection, but overall they would have been much better if their best moments had been incorporated into actual songs. I still prefer them to "Born in the 50s," though! "Behind My Camel" netted the band another Grammy, though, (kinda funny that a band most known for their pop hits won two Grammies for their instrumentals!), even though Sting refused to play on it and even buried the tape in the backyard of the studio, leaving Summers to go dig it up and play a bass track. The quasi-instrumental "Voices inside my Head," while still somewhat pointless and a little overlong, is significantly better, though. Finally, while I'm still in complaint mode, "Man In a Suitcase" is way too slow and lethargic to work as the Outlandos throwback the band clearly intended it to be, and other groups have done the travelogue thing better. At least it's short.

Enough with my bitching, though, I mean, for all that, I still give the fuckin' thing a 12! Everyone's heard "Don't Stand So Close For Me," and for good reason, it's one of those instant classic songs that could raise the score of an album containing some of the worst pieces of excrement ever recorded. Hell, put it at the end of an album containing nothing  else but Justin Bieber, a few Mike and the Mechanics hits, a bunch of Yoko Ono scream-fests an extended version of Floyd's "A New Machine," and Yes's "Angkor Wat" featuring even more Cambodian poetry, and prevent me from skipping ahead, knowing that "Don't Stand So Close To Me" is at the end might prevent me from shooting myself halfway through. What I'm trying to say is that it's a great song. Interesting synth textures, great lyrics, catchy melody--the opening synthscape shows that the band had adeptly moved into more of a New Wave style than reggae or punk, and they still knew how to make great music.

Obviously, none of the rest of the album scales those heights, but there's some other good stuff. "Driven to Tears" signals the emergence of a socially conscious Sting, and while socially conscious Sting can be incredibly annoying (I mean, really, who's gonna take advice from a guy who calls himself Sting? That's almost as dumb as getting advice from a guy who calls himself Bono!), this is a great song. Awesome bassline, and a really good groove. "When the World Is Running Down You Make The Best of What's Still Around" has another great chorus, although the verses aren't as memorable and I have to penalize the song slightly for making me write out that damn title. "Canary in a Coalmine" and Stew's "Bombs Away" are both enormously fun, infectious pop songs, especially the former, and both have the good sense to end before they get annoying. "De Do Do Do De Da Da Da" is one of the band's lesser singles, in my view, but it's still a Police single and is thus a great song. Sting gives a fantastic vocal performance, but it just doesn't captivate me as most of their singles do.

The album's real sleeper, buried in the album's otherwise useless final third, has to be the wonderfully atmospheric "Shadows in the Rain." It can take a few listens to really sink in, but eventually you'll be sucked in by the atmosphere of the song. Decent lyrics, too, and a nice "hypnotic' vocal performance. Man, though, this was a tough album for me to grade. On one hand, it seems like too high a grade to give to an album that's almost a third filler, but then I remember how awesome the rest of the album is and start to think I'm underrating it. So a 12 it is...the band's worst album, but certainly worth checking out. Hey, it may end up being your favorite.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


1. Message in a Bottle; 2. Regatta de Blanc; 3. It's Alright For You; 4. Bring on the Night; 5. Deathwish; 6. Walking on the Moon; 7. On Any Other Day; 8. The Bed's Too Big Without You; 9. Contact; 10. Does Everyone Stare; 11. No Time This Time

The second Police album is my personal favorite, but, as can be expected when a band releases only five albums, there's hardly a consensus, especially when a band is so consistent. Every Police album is pretty great, but Regatta is the only one on which I consider every song to be great. Okay, "Deathwish" falls a little short of greatness, as it's the only song here that I can't effortlessly start humming, but it's still a fine song. The radical tempo changes seem to indicate that the song evolved out of a group jam (and the fact that everybody gets a writing credit only supports this theory), which explains why it falls slightly short. But whatever, I'm not here to talk about the A- level song, I'm here to talk about the other ten songs on this baby!

The best Police album starts out with the best Police song, the undeniable classic "Message in a Bottle." The lyrics capture the feeling of isolation perfectly, the chorus is catchy as all get-out, and the band figured out how to solve their ending problem--underpin the endless repetition of a phrase (not the title, for once!) with some great Andy Summers guitar licks! Without the continued bleating of "Sending out an SOS," the guitar parts would seem rather boring, and without the guitar the singing would get old fast, but they work perfectly together. "Walking on the Moon" is another undeniable classic--absolutely fantastic atmosphere on that track. On paper, a line like "hoping that my legs don't break, walking on the moon" seems just ridiculously stupid, but it just works on the album--Sting's vocal performance really sells the song. The Police are like that a lot for me actually--they seem to have a lot of songs and ideas that if I just heard about them, I would hate, but I actually end up loving them! That's a sign of a great band, and proof that Sting, at least at one point, had the ability to use his vocals to really make a song great. I still have no idea what the hell his accent is supposed to be.

The "white reggae" alluded to in the album's title is most prominent in "Bring on the Night" and "The Bed's Too Big Without You." "Bring on the Night" has interesting lyrics from the point of view of a condemned man, and "Bed" has a fascinating guitar line that seems to come out of nowhere and flit between speakers. Really neat production trick by Andy, who, despite a lack of truly memorable solos on the album, and really a lack of true riffs, is always an important presence with his constant use of inventive textures and tones--he's the perfect example of a guitarist who supplements his bandmates instead of drawing attention to himself. Closer "No Time This Time" ends the album on a rocking note, with yet another impeccable melody. It's a song that could easily be construed as filler if it weren't so great.

This is also the closest the band ever came to releasing a democratic album, with only five of eleven songs credited to Sting alone, although ,as per usual, he gets both singles. Besides the afore-mentioned "Deathwish," the group collaborates on the instrumental "Regatta de Blanc," featuring some absolutely ferocious Stew drumming and netting the band a well-deserved Grammy. The Grammys are a complete sack of shit, especially considering that this was the year that The Wall lost to Christopher fucking Cross, but occasionally they stumble ass-backwards into getting it right. The song actually developed from a live jam the band inserted into "Can't Stand Losing You," and I'm glad they decided to record it in the studio. Stew gets four songs on the album (one of them, "It's Alright for You," a Sting co-write), and, perhaps surprisingly, all of them are great! The reason for more democracy is that the album was recorded in a rush, and the band had a severe lack of material (they even considered re-recording first single "Fall Out," and I would actually be interested to hear what Andy, who wasn't in the band back then, would do with it), but you'd hardly know it from listening to this album. "It's Alright for You" and "Contact" fulfill the role of rockers on the album. They aren't what I come to the album for, but damned if I don't enjoy them when they're on. "Contact" in particular has a great riff.

The other two Stew songs don't really fit the white reggae of the album, and while this might annoy some people, I find them to be a nice diversion. Copeland actually sings "On Any Other Day," and while he can't actually sing worth a shit, Sting's dramatic vocal style wouldn't have worked with the jerky melody at all. The basic concept of the song can be summed up in the introduction, where Stew deadpans, "You want something corny? You got it!" and the song certainly lives up to it, playing the most shitty day imaginable for laughs. Also, just a note to those who might want to say that the song is homophobic because one of the complaints is "My fine young son has turned out gay"--in the context of the song, it's just that the guy doesn't want to deal with the revelation on a day when his daughter ran away, he finds out his wife has been cheating on him, and he cuts off his fucking fingers in the car door! It would be okay on any other day! Also, remember the song is over 30 years old--today, we could debate rather or not somebody's son being gay is even something that they'd have to deal with, but for 1979 it's not at all unreasonable. The son has terrible timing, anyway, just because he's an asshole fucker doesn't give him the right to be a fucking asshole! Okay, I'm sorry for that...Prindle makes it seem so effortless! Anyway, if you like "On Any Other Day," check out Copeland's solo work under the name Klark Kent--it sounds exactly like it!

Copeland's real winner, though, is "Does Everyone Stare," which is probably the best song he ever wrote (I haven't heard any of his non-Kent solo work, so I can't say for sure). The first awesome thing is how the first verse is actually the original demo, just Stew singing over some rudimentary piano chords, tape hiss and all. An inexplicable opera singer marks the transition to Sting taking over the vocals and actual produced music coming in behind him. The song is just a great peon to socially awkward losers everywhere--as a card-carrying member of that particular sect, this is one of the best ruminations on a hopeless crush that I've heard. It doesn't take itself too seriously ("I change my clothes ten times before I take you on a date"), but isn't a complete mockery either, and, thank God, doesn't turn into a complete wangst-fest like so many like-minded songs do. Besides, the final verse is just about perfect:  "I'm gonna write you a sonnet but I don't know where to start/I'm so used to laughing at the things in my heart/Last of all I'm sorry 'cos you never asked for this/I can see I'm not your type and my shots will always miss, always miss!" I've been there, believe me. I know this is an almost ludicrous opinion, but the single best verse of lyrics in a Police song (except maybe "Synchronicity II") was written by Stewart Copeland. Hell, I'm even thankful that the coda goes on a bit too long, so I don't lose my fucking mind and decide it's the best song on the album.

So, unless you for some reason find the concept of "white reggae" to be offensive, you really should get this album. It has "Message in a Bottle," "Walking on the Moon," and you get to hear Stewart Copeland sing! What more can a person ask out of an album?


1.  Next To You; 2. So Lonely; 3. Roxanne; 4. Hole In My Life; 5. Peanuts; 6. Can't Stand Losing You; 7. Truth Hits Everybody; 8. Born In the '50s; 9. Be My Girl--Sally; 10. Masoko Tanga
Best song: ROXANNE

The erstwhile Gordon Sumner is probably second only to Phil Collins in both the division between fans of their solo careers and fans of their former bands, and the hatred said solo career receives from certain fans of their band. Therefore, many people who have never heard anything by The Police other than maybe "Every Breath You Take" tend to be willing to write the band off, and I know I did for quite awhile. Sure, I liked the few hits I'd heard on the radio, but for the longest time I was most familiar with Sting for his cameo on "Money for Nothing." Now that I've gotten into the band, though, I realize what a mistake that was. Take this album, their debut--there's punk, reggae, pop, tango, and straight-ahead rock all put together in this appealing package. Also, Sting, Andy Summers, and Stewart Copeland are all terrific players, especially Copeland, and I was shocked to find out what a good bassist Sting was--not to make too much out of the rather weak Collins comparison, but both men would be highly respected for their talents even if they'd never even stepped up to a mike.  One thing that slightly annoys me about this album, though, and that the band never truly corrects, is that they don't have a goddamn clue how to end a fucking song. Just about every song here consists of Sting repeating the chorus (which usually consists of just the title) over and over until it eventually fades. The funny thing is, this doesn't really bother me on any of the individual songs, but it can be a bit of a pain in the ass when listening to the entire album. In fact, that issue and the issue of "Born in the 50s" sucking a fat one are the only reasons that I don't consider this the band's best album.

Opener "Next To You" is the perfect microcosm of the diversity I mentioned earlier. Sure, it starts out like a fairly normal punk song, albeit with love-themed lyrics (a major point of contention between Sting and Stewart Copeland, I believe, and far from the last) and above-average playing. But then, about halfway into the song, Andy Summers busts out...a bluesy slide solo. Not only is completely out of place in the song, it's completely out of place in the entire Police discography, and I love it! There isn't a moment on the album quite as stark as that on the rest of the album, but the diversity is one of the album's strong points. Everybody's heard "Roxanne," I'd assume, and everybody either loves it or needs to get the hell off of my site, but the other mega-single, "Can't Stand Losing You," is hardly worse, and introduces the trademark Police gimmick of pairing an incredibly depressing/disturbing lyric with an incredibly catchy melody, which happens to be one of my favorite gimmicks in all of pop music. The other punkish song on here, the Sting/Copeland collaboration "Peanuts,"  has a great guitar solo, and nicely balances punk anger with humorous overtones(most Sting/Copeland collaborations involved Sting rewriting lyrics to a song Stew had already written, but I don't know if that's the case here). Fan favorite "So Lonely" is great, too, even if fans do tend to overrate it a little bit--it's either the fifth or sixth best song on the album! And it's great!

Now, "Truth Hits Everybody" and "Hole In My Life" are good songs for sure, but their verse melodies aren't as strong as the other songs, so all you have to latch onto is that damn title being repeated over and over and over. Good, but hardly standouts on the album. What isn't good is the album's sole misfire, "Born in the 50s." Even disregarding the fact that Andy was born in the 40s (he had been in the music scene for 15 years before joining the band, mainly as a session man but with a stint in Eric Burdon's Animals--some punk he was!), the band's try for an overt "classic rock" sound just doesn't do it for me. The lyrics are pretty dumb, too, so yeah, I'm going to throw in with critical consensus on that one. Where I break from consensus, however, is the following "Be My Girl--Sally." Yes, the chorus is incredibly simplistic, and yes, Andy's spoken-word bit about a blow-up doll is incredibly stupid. But being an incredibly simplistic, stupid kind of guy myself, I just get the biggest kick out of the proceedings. I think what sells the poem section to me is how Andy's reading effectively straddles the line between sincere and sarcastic (only a British person could pull this off), making the character's perversion seem rather amusing. It's hardly a classic, but I like it, so there.

The album wraps up with the exotic "Masoko Tanga," which allows everybody ample space to showcase their talents and is one of the group's finest instrumentals. Overall, Outlandos d'Amour is a necessity for anybody with an interest in The Police, and anybody with an interest in this era of rock music should check it out. Even those who have sworn never to buy anything with Sting's name on it should give it a try--chances are you'll be pleasantly surprised.


Sting (Gordon Sumner): bass, lead vocals, saxophones, keyboards
Andy Summers: guitars, keyboards, vocals
Stewart Copeland: drums, keyboards, occasional guitar, vocals
Henry Padovani: lead guitar on first single

Note that non-albums singles and b-sides will be discussed in the Message in a Box review

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Kinks: The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society (1968)

1.  The Village Green Preservation Society; 2. Do You Remember Walter?; 3. Picture Book; 4. Johnny Thunder; 5. Last of the Steam Powered Trains; 6. Big Sky; 7. Sitting By the Riverside; 8. Animal Farm; 9. Village Green; 10. Starstruck; 11. Phenomenal Cat; 12. All of My Friends Were There; 13. Wicked Annabella; 14. Monica; 15. People Take Pictures of Each Other

If nothing else, it took some serious stones for Ray and company to release this album in 1968. While all of their contemporaries were still in the throes of psychedelia, Ray took the opposite approach in his songwriting--this is a largely acoustic affair, looking back to simpler times of village greens, "china cups, and virginity." Now, I don't know enough about British history to be able to say which parts, if any, are meant ironically, but I can say that Ray sounds damn sincere. I have a suspicion that if a modern group released an album in this same theme, it would be drowning in so much sarcasm that it would be a chore to sit through, but here you get the feeling that Ray actually does miss the village green.

The album flopped when it came out, and even though it's fantastic, it's not hard to see why it didn't shoot up the charts. The sound is very laid-back--most of the songs are based around either the acoustic guitar or piano, and once again the connection with "rock" music is tenuous at best. In addition, unlike Something Else, which had several strong singles to boost sales, the singles off this one didn't do as well (the excellent non-album single "Days" did much better, though, I believe). Since Dave doesn't write any songs here, he is very marginalized, really only getting a chance to stand out on "Last of the Steam Powered Trains" and "Wicked Annabella," the only two rocking songs here. The former  is a cool rootsy song from the point of view of the titular train (who lives in a museum now), with a cool harmonica part and a great section towards the end where the music speeds up like the train is out riding the rails one last time. It's also the first song by the band to top 4 minutes, if that means anything to you, which it probably shouldn't. "Wicked Annabella" then, actually rocks pretty hard in a Who-ish way (The Who ripped off the Kinks' style for "I Can't Explain," so what goes around comes around) with a cool snarling vocal performance from Dave and strong drumming from Mick Avory (I use the opening drum part as my rhythm for door knocking). Probably the highlight of side 2, and necessary to break up the monotony.

The other 13 songs are pretty damn laid back, though. Now, I normally prefer more high energy music, but these songs are so awesome I don't even care. The title track is absolutely brilliant in its mission statement for the album, buoyed by the piano line and some more nice drumming from Avory, who really comes into his own on this album. "Picture Book" has one of the best melodies ever written, and "Do You Remember Walter" and "Johnny Thunder" are both strong character sketches. Now, the album's first five tracks are so damn perfect that what comes after can't help but be a bit disappointing, but it's all somewhere between good and great. Besides "Wicked Annabella," favorites from the back 9 include melodic side 2 opener "Animal Farm" and the hilarious "All of My Friends Were There," but even though I wouldn't choose to listen to any of the others outside of the context of the album doesn't mean I don't love them when they're on. I suppose "Starstruck" is a little less memorable than the others, but it's still decent. "People Take Pictures of Each Other" and "Village Green" are inferior versions of "Picture Book" and the title track, but both are still solid (and calling "Village Green" an inferior rewrite is actually a blatant lie, seeing as it was written in 1966).

So, even though the sameness towards the end can get a little monotonous when I'm not in the right mood for the album, it's still one of my favorite albums and my second favorite Kinks album, and probably the one most associated with the band. If you have Kronikles or some other compilation and want to expand your Kollection, this is a good starting place as any, plus it's relatively easy to find. So, what are you waiting for?