The Police

     Outlandos d'Amour (A&M, 1979)
     Reggatta de Blanc (A&M, 1979)
      Zenyatta Mondatta (A&M, 1980)
     Ghost in the Machine (A&M, 1981)
     Synchronicity (A&M, 1983)
     Every Breath You Take: The Singles (A&M, 1986)
     Message in a Box: The Complete Recordings (A&M, 1993)
    Live! (A&M, 1995)
     The Police (A&M, 2007)
    Certifiable: Live in Buenos Aires (A&M 2008)

Unlike most punk-associated bands, the Police started out with well-honed chops, rather than just developing them along the way. Founder Stewart Copeland cut his teeth with the art-rock combo Curved Air, while guitarist Andy Summers was an alumnus of the jazzy progressive band Soft Machine; even bassist/vocalist Sting, a relative unknown, had made a name in fusion bands. But because punk favored passion over technical prowess, the Police traded overt flash for a sort of covert virtuosity, coming up with intricate rhythm arrangements and quietly complex reggae grooves.

It wasn't actually punk, but it wasn't like anything else in rock, either. Outlandos d'Amour mixes jazzy reggae workouts like "Masoko Tanga" with uninspiring fare like "Born in the 50's." The band's commercial potential didn't seem manifest at the time, but "Roxanne" (a U.S. Top Forty single), "So Lonely," and "Can't Stand Losing You" have become Eighties pop classics. Reggatta de Blanc's "The Bed's Too Big Without You" and "Message in a Bottle" are powered by the instrumentation, not melody. Instead of the typical power-trio approach, in which the guitar carries the tune while drums and bass offer rhythmic support, the Police invert the formula: Copeland's swirling polyrhythms lead the way while Sting's bass grounds the pulse and Summers' phased-and-flanged guitar adds color.

This sly twist on tradition placed most of the band's energy in the groove, which paid off big-time with Zenyatta Mondatta. The emphasis on rhythmic intensity made the songs catchier (as "Voices Inside My Head" shows, the band certainly knew how to work a vamp), and the rhythmic dynamics add a singular punch to the material. So despite the flirty-student melodrama of its lyrics, the groove's ebb and flow underscores the dramatic tension in "Don't Stand So Close to Me." The band augments its instrumentation with keyboards and even a little saxophone on Ghost in the Machine but otherwise maintains Zenyatta's approach via well-modulated singles like "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" and "Spirits in the Material World" (though the most interesting and entrancing rhythmic ideas are lavished on nonpop numbers like the funky "Too Much Information" and the relentless "Demolition Man").

Synchronicity is the band's swan song. The playing is clearly collaborative, and the band is at its most supple and inspiring, from the percolating exoticism of "Walking in Your Footsteps" and the full-throttle fury of "Synchronicity I" to the slow boil of "Every Breath You Take." The fact that Sting's writing so conspicuously dominated the band's songbook clearly began to grate on the other members, whose input amounted to one song each on this album (Copeland's wry "Miss Gradenko" and Summers' irritatingly Freudian "Mother"). Consequently, the Police fell apart soon after Synchronicity, though in 2007, the band had a well-publicized (and very profitable) reunion, documented on Certifiable. The CD-DVD combo finds the group rotely going through their hits, as if calculating how many millions they're earning per second.

A double-disc set timed to coincide with their reunion, The Police is the band's best career-spanning compilation. Message in a Box: The Complete Recordings is a redundant door-stop that compiles all of the band's studio recordings, including B-sides and rarities. Live! pairs a sprightly, raw 1979 club show with a staid 1983 arena performance, delivering nothing revelatory.

Portions of this album guide appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004).

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