THE POLICE: GHOST IN THE MACHINE (1981)
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
Best song: EVERY LITTLE THING SHE DOES IS MAGIC
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.