The Police were one of the gold and platinum saviors of New Wave, and the first band of their ilk to maneuver themselves from the sweaty confines of an Econoline van to the stadiums of the world with their punk-inspired rock/reggae hybrid sound. As I mentioned in a recent post, I did not initially rate The Police as being worth my time and effort, until I chanced to hear their title cut to “Regatta De Blanc” and hit me just right. There’s something about that chord sequence…
Still, the band’s ascent gave more than lip service to Miles Copeland’s management theories and the value of old fashioned hard work. I can remember that The Police were about the first British “New Wave” act that dared to venture down to the torrid backwater hell of Central Florida right from the get go. I didn’t see them then, but I never had bitter regrets over that fact*. It was just The Police. While “Roxanne” and “I Can’t Stand Losing You” had respectable airplay on the conservative “FM Rock” stations I was listening to at the time, quite frankly, I was more into the nascent US New Wave of late ’78 like Talking Heads and DEVO. By the next year, OMD and Gary Numan would be perking my ears up on the other side of the Atlantic.
I never made the leap to digital for this band until I had rid myself of their vinyl and waited almost a decade. After all, The Police got heavy enough airplay not to have any urge to hear their music on demand. If A+M Records hadn’t released the neat, tidy, [and inexpensive] “Message In A Box” in 1993. we might not be having this quick and dirty little Rock G.P.A. today!
The Police – Outlandos D’Amour | 1978 – 2.0
By the time I bought this on vinyl, their second album was out. I was no fan of reggae, considering it religious music from a culture I knew nothing about. Of course, UK punks were heavily into reggae [thanks Don Letts] and The Clash were cross pollinating punk and reggae around the same time. So the story goes when Sting wrote “Roxanne” that made Miles’ ears perk up and then that became the “new direction” necessary to give the band traction. Stewart Copeland thought that The Police would be his nifty “punk” band ejection seat from the past-its-sell-by-date Prog of Curved Air. It’s obvious in retrospect he didn’t see it coming. It being the hijacking of his band by the bass player, who had been around the block a few times himself.
The album starts off with the urgent rocker “Next To You” which would seem to be from the band’s early days since it unfurls with punk speed and not a hint of reggae. When he’s not singing on the album in a fake Jamaican accent, he favors a strangulated rasp suggesting he’s got a phlegm problem. The most Quixotic thing about this song is the appearance in the middle eight of a blues-based slide guitar solo [the only one on a Police record I can think of] from Andy Summers who clearly hadn’t worked his way through finding his niche in this band, who were a last ditch effort for the elderly  guitarist to perhaps finally make it in music after over a decade of trying.
The template for the next few years is revealed on the next cut, “So Lonely.” Reggae played by white guys [but with a Jamaican accent nonetheless]. Poor Sting! He really does a lot of whining on this album for a 27 year old. This track goes on a bit long for a band that [in the early days at least] saw value in being succinct. There are a lot of three minute Police songs, but this is not one of them.
The single “Roxanne” has been played to death by now. I’ll bet even Sting is sick of it. Apart from the repetitive guitar skank by Summers, there’s not a lot here to examine closely. Sting has graduated from whining about himself to whining about his girlfriend. At least “Hole In My Life” enlivens its cod-reggae with some sharp “yeahs” in the distinctive intro. That added a bit of interest.
What was once side one ended with one of my favorite songs on the album, “Peanuts.” That is was a successful Sting/Copeland composition [!?] probably reveals my predilection for Copeland’s Klark Kent records over those of The Police. It’s true he really didn’t need those bums. I like the breakneck pace of the number and it seems to indicate that Sting had a sense of humor at one point. Most unusual is the frenzied solo that Summers grabs by the throat for a manic 38 seconds and hundreds of notes; clearly the longest solo in The Police canon.
“Can’t Stand Losing You” proffers yet more “poor Sting” lyrics over a staccato retread of “Roxanne.” For better is “Truth Hits Everybody,” which veers away from reggae style with some welcome amphetamine pacing. “Born In The 50s” is a weird track that remains a road less traveled for the group. It’s the furthest thing from reggae, so naturally Sting’s raspy phrasing is back with a vengeance. This cut sounds like something that might have been written in the early-mid 70s; pre-punk. It really stands out like a sore thumb on the album.
The less said about “Be My Girl/Sally.” The better. I can’t believe it made the cut for the LP. A throwaway Sting riff [certainly not a song] was brazenly coupled with some Andy Summers doggerel that turned “In Every Dream Home A Heartache” into a cheap joke. The album them wrapped up with the faux-Afrique semi-instro “Masoko Tanga.” More B-side material.
The album in retrospect grasps at some fairly blatant straws, but to American ears, all of this was fairly exotic. The Clash records were barely released here at this point, and their reggae experiments were pretty far below ground to American ears. The best that I can say about this album is that is has a direct, unfussy self production by the band that eschews high end for midrange as far as the ear can hear. The band produced this on the cheap using available studio time and bankrolled on what they probably blew on sushi for the “Ghost In The Machine” sessions three years later. That it managed to garner a foothold in the US charts at the time shows just how much of an achievement that these three British upstarts managed to make with their hasty debut album. Where it went from here was anyone’s guess at this point, but for the record, I wasn’t expecting too much.
Next: That all-important sophomore album…