Those people who indicted the Police’s debut album — citing the trio’s arch exploitation of the New Wave — will find plenty on Reggatta de Blanc to justify charges of recidivism. The group once again exhibits the same high-handed, crafty superciliousness that marred Out-landos d’Amour. “The other ones are complete bullshit,” announces drummer Stewart Copeland, introducing the new record’s “On Any Other Day,” his mocking chronicle of suburban miseries. “You want something corny?” he asks. “You got it” is his answer. Elsewhere, bassist-frontman Sting’s spliff-and-swagger reggae vocals often sound bloodless and condescending, checking off rather than embodying emotions.
As with Outlandos d’Amour, however, such criticisms are rendered moot by the sheer energy of the band’s rhythmic counter-punching. There’s enough life in Reggatta de Blanc to make you suspect that the Police’s image of elite detachment — like that of the Mod-icon character played by Sting in the movie, Quadrophenia — is just another pose. Nothing on this LP is as instantly catchy as last year’s “Roxanne,” with its introductory giggle and pop-harmony chorus, but almost all the compositions capture you eventually. Constructing and repeating terse, rhythmic hooks, Sting, Stewart Copeland and guitarist Andy Summers set up patterns and crosscurrents like body builders training side by side. Songs, whether reggae or rock, rarely end. Instead, they build through chanty choruses, shift tempo and fade away. Each tune is honed by a distinct production or structural gimmick: the phased vocals in “No Time This Time,” the rhyminglist lyrics ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â la Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” in “It’s Alright for You,” the Who’s “Magic Bus” chassis in “Death-wish.” An evocative reggae track, “The Bed’s Too Big without You,” combines Sting’s ululating, drawn-out syllables and the tense, whirring jabs of Summers’ guitar to make up the chorus hook.
In Reggatta de Blanc’s best cut, “Message in a Bottle,” Summers twists a sinuous, repetitive guitar line (borrowed from Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper”) around the pounding, anchoring bass. Copeland’s quick hi-hat fills add to the song’s feel of fatalistic urgency, while Sting’s lilting mock-reggae wails — papier-màché plaintive though they may be — work like the siren of an emergency vehicle, guiding and warning of momentum. It’s a perfect example of why I’ve always found the Police less offensive than arresting.