The Police – Zenyatta Mondatta | 1980 – 3.5
The third Police album saw the band reaching superstar status in the USA with the album aloft in the charts for a half of a year or so. It’s hard to believe that an album that sold so well only had a pair of singles peeled off of it. The leadoff single was “Don’t Stand So Close To Me,” a tale of a different kind of teacher/student relationship that sure wouldn’t fly today, thought it went top 10 at the time. While it’s lyrically untouchable now, the music remains valid with seasoning from Andy Summers’ new toys. Specifically his Roland GR-300 guitar synth which added subtle textures to this and other tracks.
Next came the urgent “Driven To Tears” where the music expertly upheld the tension inherent in the lyrics. Summers can suggest so much with a few carefully chosen, underplayed chords, but his atonal freakout solo on the middle eight accomplished a great deal in just a few bars. This made his later teaming with Robert Fripp for a pair of instro albums seem not so far-fetched.
By 1980, the UK was experiencing a ska boom with the second wave of ska acts cresting in popularity. Sting was obviously paying attention since he was almost always dressed in a Beat t-shirt during this period. “Canary In A Coalmine” was the only time that the band dipped their toes in the ska waters and to much success as hearing an upbeat guitar skank courtesy of Summers is a real treat. Sting’s lyrics together with Summers’ guitar propel the tune along at a giddy pace. The song is over in 2:24 and I have to admit that by that point I’m wanting more.
“Voices Inside My Head” is the sequel to “Regatta De Blanc” with the [largely] instrumental cut getting another dose of percussive, chanted “CHA” b-vox. “Bombs Away” is another upbeat Stewart Copeland number not too far from Klark Kent material. The only Andy Summers writing for this album is the instro “Behind My Camel,” which won a grammy for Best Rock Instrumental in 1980. My take is that the song reveals everything 30 seconds, and there is no build or release of tension over its 2:53 length. I would have sent Summers back to the drawing board, but the band were touring like animals during this time period while Miles Copeland was sending them all over the world to reach that all important “critical mass.” It’s B-side material to my ears, Grammy or not.
That selfsame travel is the subject of “Man In A Suitcase,” one of the more clever “road songs” from the corpus of Rock. Hearing rock stars moan and complain about touring can get tiresome. At least this one uses fresher ventriloquist dummy metaphors. It’s followed by Sting’s “Shadows In The Rain, ” a stab at what can only be called psychedelic reggae, with his vocals filtered and flanged over the trippy music bed. At 5:09, it rambles on a bit for this group. Normally they’re much tighter.
Speaking of tight, the album closes snappily with “The Other Way Of Stopping,” another Copeland instrumental to sit next to his Klark Kent Klassic “Theme From Kinetic Ritual.” It’s good, but not that good! So closes this possibly hurried, third Police album. Three tracks were instrumental that time, and none of these were as good as the killa instrumental title cut to their previous album. The singles here were passable. “De Doo Doo Doo, De Da Da Da” is a pleasant way to spend four minutes, but the singles are simply not in the class of the two from “Reggatta De Blanc,” which stand among the best Police songs.
It’s ironic that it was wanting to hear this album that tipped my hand to buy “Message In A Box” in 1993 and for many years, I had the best feelings about “Zenyatta Mondatta,” and considered it my favorite Police album. The critical listening I’ve given their work in the last week has seen this album fall in my esteem while the earlier “Reggatta De Blanc” has risen considerably, so that their grades are swapped from what I would have given them off the top of my head just weeks earlier.
Next: Give The Ghost Of Music…
Sorry 2.5 here for me. I can relate this based on the listening habits of my core friends and back in 1980. We were all Juniors/Seniors in High School and none of us had classes past 1pm everyday. We would meet up a a friend’s home which was 2 blocks from school and bring albums over to listen to. Many of my records stayed in this friend’s house because they were so popular. Regatta De Blanc was one we all owned. It was one we played over and over. But when I was the first to buy Zenyatta Mondatta and brought it over, no one was really that enthused. Don’t Stand So Close To Me was all over the radio and just sounded lightweight after the arty cool of Bed’s To Big Without You or Does Everyone Stare. Canary In A Coalmine was just silly and couldn’t touch The Specials, The Selecter, or The Beat (English). It also had to compete as an album with albums from Echo And The Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes and Talking Heads. I remember a couple days after I brought it over, I took it home. I didn’t listen to it for over a year probably and when Ghost In The Machine came out, I revisited it and decided I liked Voices In My Head and Driven To Tears. Both of these songs would be a link between albums 2 and 4 but this third album just never really captured me – or my friends.
Before reading your post, I was going to use the word “lightweight” to describe Zenyatta versus Regatta, but you beat me to it. I’m OK with humor, but when it borders on silly (“Canary in a Coalmine”), it loses me.
The one track that I think bears mentioning (that the Monk did not) is “When the World is Running Down,” which makes great use of those Summers open chords.
Overall, I’d give this one a 3.5, just as the Monk. I can’t really argue for more, but could for a bit less, I suppose.
Zoo – Yes, WTWIRDYMTBOWSA is a highlight, but I didn’t feel like typing that whole title!