THE POLICE: SYNCHRONICITY (1983)
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
Best song: SYNCHRONICITY II
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.