The gulf of accomplishment between the first and second Police albums is astounding. Their breakthrough UK #1 with “Message In A Bottle” was a well deserved placement. What really makes this second album stand out for me is primarily the work of guitarist Summers. He really found his voice by the time these sessions were cooking and his use of open chords to color the increasingly sophisticated sound really took this music places. The rondo figure he anchors “Message” with locks in with Sting’s bassline to create a magnificent earworm.
The title track remains my favorite Police song from their canon and the fact that it’s just three minutes long is some sort of injustice to me. The skittering rim hit percussion of Stewart Copeland kicks off the cut in an exciting fashion. Summers’ chords add tension and advance the sense of propulsion here and by the time the percussive vocal “CHA” chants hit I’m seriously loving this song. This was the track of theirs that finally made me take notice when it was used in a local radio ad and I figured out who it was. The later expression vocals [eeyo-eyoo-e-yay-oo] are a magnificent exploration of a less is more ethos that this band would have done well to remember a few years down the road. When Sting’s bassline rises an octave in the coda it’s a perfect ending to a fantastic composition. Notably, all members are credited for writing.
I like the punk-jazz hybrid of “It’s Alright For You.” Sting’s staccatto, percussive, monosyllabic lyrics hit like bullets and I appreciate the lack of a reggae sound on tracks like this. The lack of fake Jamaican accent also goes a long way with me. This great cut noticably bears a Copeland/Sting credit line and that is one of the pleasures of this album for me. The input that Copeland had with writing it really shows. Six songs here bear Copeland’s stamp! Quite a peak for him and the balance it brings to this album is considerable.
I love the picking that Summers employs on the intro to “Deathwish.” It interacts nicely with Sting’s bo-diddley bassline for an elegant feel It’s a great deep cut here and remains buried like a treasure to investigate decades later, completely free from overexposure. It’s yet another complete band composition. I can’t help but think that had the band been able to write together moreso than they did later, that I would have enjoyed the result more than I did. The sophomore curse should have hit this band hard. Extensive touring meant that Sting went into the sessions with just a few tracks in pocket. What the entire band developed in recording was even more valuable than what the singer brought to the table.
That said, the single that Sting brought to the table were among his best songs ever. I’ve admittedly spent the entire weekend prior to writing this post with “Walking On The Moon” running in a constant mental loop; bumped occasionally only by Beethoven’s 9th Symphony fighting for mental space. This Monk does not live by Post-Punk alone. The infectious bassline coupled with a real sense of dub space employed on this track makes it aural catnip for my ears. The synthesizers are a subtle icing on the cake. Inspired by this song, I began thinking last weekend about a project I’d like to hear; dub versions of The Police canon. I can’t believe that this never happened! Imagine Lee Perry or Groucho Smykle let lose on those masters? I’d pay for it!
One of the biggest surprises on this album was the total Klark Kent track “On Any Other Day” which even got the clincher of a Stewart Copeland lead vocal! This great track was The Police in name only! The lighter touch adds contrast with some of Sting’s moodier pieces. That Copeland was able to get Sting to sing his “Contact” must count as some sort of victory! The world needed more of Sting singing Copeland lyrics! I love the use of synth for the bass on this track and Summers clean picking make this track a delight.
Copeland then pulls off a hat trick with the next cut, “Does Everyone Stare.” It’s a real pleasure to hear such an atypical song, so far removed from the usual Police procedures. It also offers Sting a chance to drop the accent, which always pleases my ear. The blending of Copeland singing on what sounds like the demo with Sting taking over on the studio recording which is segued into the mix is a playful move that this band would soon be incapable of.
This is a well balanced Police album that features strong songwriting shared among the three members more equally here than on any other album by The Police. The band move away from two chord bashers and allow their natural sophistication to seep into the songs [apart from the thrashing closer, “No Time This Time,” which sounds like a holdover from album one. Sting doesn’t dominate the proceedings and Andy Summers by this time had found his voice to take The Police forward. Stewart Copeland was letting more finesse seep into his drumming even as he was writing more music here than ever before. It adds up to a compelling album by The Police that rightfully took them places while delivering in spades on the rough promise of their debut album.
Next: All the world’s a stage…