THE POLICE: ZENYATTA MONDATTA (1980)
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
Best song: DON'T STAND SO CLOSE TO ME
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.