When the World Is Running Down, You Rank All the Police Albums
Sting, to whom the years have been excessively kind, at Smart Financial Centre in February
Photo by Jack Gorman
2017 marks the 10th anniversary of the Police Reunion Tour (which rolled through Houston in July of that year). It's odd sometimes to think about how the trio consting of Sting, Stewart Copeland, and Andy Summers went from pop-punk obscurity — playing in front of a literal handful of people at dates on their first tour — to being arguably the biggest band in the word in the span of six short years. The group released a mere five albums in that period, seven fewer than Sting as a solo artist, yet each one is memorable in its own right.
But some are more memorable than others. And while your humble writer considers the Police one of his favorite acts, and bears a great amount of affection for each of their releases, these are harsh times demanding action to cut through the hesitation and gridlock that plague our country. Seeing as how no one has yet decided to rank the group's output (not that I bothered to check), I decided to take a stab at it.
Some notes on methodology...there isn't any. Albums don't lose points for having a stupid title, because most of them were pretty dumb. "Best Songs" refers to the songs I prefer, while "Worst Songs"...well, you get the idea. The number assigned for "ASS Factor" refers to the offensiveness of that album's Andy Summers Song(s), which only had significant results for one album.
Now before I lose my nerve as I've done from the start, let's get cracking. It's not like we're between Scylla and Charybdis here.
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5. Outlandos d'Amour (1978)
What The Stupid Title Allegedly Means: "Outlaws of Love"
Best Song(s): "So Lonely," "Can't Stand Losing You"
Worst Song(s): "Born in the '50s"
ASS Factor: (5) "Be My Girl - Sally" — The individual song equivalent of "The Be Sharps": it's witty at first, but seems less funny each time you hear it.
The thing about the Police's so-called "worst" album is, it's still pretty good! The pop-punk sound balances the reggae influences nicely, and while there are some goofy entries, "So Lonely" and "CSLY" are still spin-worthy. That said, "Born in the '50s" is as self-consciously obnoxious as anything Billy Joel ever wrote.
4. Reggatta de Blanc (1979)
What The Stupid Title Means: "White Reggae," though I think "White Boat Race" works just as well.
Best Song(s): "Message in a Bottle," "Walking on the Moon"
Worst Song(s): "Contact"
ASS Factor: (0) Though two of the Stewart Copeland-penned tracks ("On Any Other Day" and "Does Everyone Stare") are pretty Summers-esque if you squint your ears.
Don't worry, we're not totally going in reverse-chronological order or anything. Again, RdB is a solid effort. Not to pick on Summers, but Copeland's goofiness works better (and Sting actually puts effort in for "Does Everyone Stare"). The band were in a crunch to record, however, so there's lots of recycled material here. Still worth a listen, and "Message" remains one of the GOATs.
3. Synchronicity (1983)
What The Stupid Title Means: Arthur Koestler reference, plus a side of Carl Jung.
Best Song(s): "Synchronicity II," "Wrapped Around Your Finger"
Worst Song(s): see below, also "Walking in Your Footsteps" and "King of Pain."
ASS Factor: (10) Synchronicity makes a strong claim for best Police album until "Mother" kicks in. I remain half-convinced it was this, and not personality feuds with Copeland, that led Sting to break up the band.
Well, that and his monstrous ego. This may be perceived as a bit of an upset, I guess. When Synchronicity is great, as it often is (both versions of the title cut, "Every Breath You Take"), it's nigh unstoppable. The filler here is decidedly less satisfying, however, and the ponderous leanings of Sting's coming solo career is hinted at in "Walking in Your Footsteps" and "King of Pain."
2. Zenyatta Mondatta (1980)
What The Stupid Title Means: Just "syllables that sound good together," according to Copeland.
Best Song(s): "Driven to Tears," "Man in a Suitcase"
Worst Song(s): "Voices Inside My Head"
ASS Factor: (6) "Behind My Camel" was famously hated by the other members of the band (Sting refused to play on the track), but it won a Grammy. For comparison's sake, that was the same year the execrable "Elvira" by the Oak Ridge Boys won Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.
The first Police album I ever bought, and still one of my favorites. I was taken in not just by the first hints of political leaning in their lyrics ("Driven to Tears," "Bombs Away") and "Man in a Suitcase," which is just fun as hell. That just leaves...
1. Ghost in the Machine (1981)
What The Stupid Title Means: Sting was a biiig Koestler guy.
Best Song(s): "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic," "Invisible Sun"
Worst Song(s): "Hungry for You (J'aurais toujours faim de toi)"
ASS Factor: (1) "Omegaman" is actually pretty goddamn good.
More serious-minded (without sounding pretentious) yet still a bouncy, exhilarating listen ("Every Little Thing" succeeding in spite of its tortured background and production). There's a melancholy here that sounds more organic and unforced than the songs in their next album and manages to overcome Sting's less successful efforts ("One World (Not Three)," "Too Much Information"). Ladies and gentlemen, the Ghost has the most.
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