I remember the hype ads on MTV for this album prior to its release. The Duane Michals photos were zipping across the screen while the song “Synchronicity 1” played on top of the montage. “Synchronicity 1” sounded pretty good to me, but soon afterward I heard the other singles as they played in constant rotation on MTV and I never bought this album. Playing it now, “Synchronicity 1” still sounds like the best possible lead-off track for this album. Built upon an urgent sequencer figure with Copeland and Sting hammering on rhythm, it manages to swing albeit with a frantic energy; not an easy tightrope to walk. Why on earth was this never a single from this album that was milked to death? They certainly did a lot worse with the actual singles.
Actually, they did a lot worse with every other track on this simply horrid release. Unlike the previous album, which was top loaded with the singles on side one, this time they picked side two. Not that it matter a whit since both sides [apart from “Synchronicity 1”] are by far the worst two sides to any Police album. “Walking In Your Footsteps” sounds like they were listening to peter gabriel III or King Crimson’s “Discipline” with Summers relegated to a Belew role in providing a textural counterpoint. At one time, this would have been B-side material for this band.
The Sting Show® gets underway in earnest with “O My God,” absolutely the worst Police song ever!! This song is so lacking, every time I listen to it [which was far too often listening for this series of posts] it seems like hearing it for the first time since there is nothing memorable about this tune. Well, possibly… with the exception of the pathetically bad jazz sax solo Sting offers at the song’s coda. It plays like a parody of jazz by someone with no affinity [or affection] whatsoever for the form.
Andy Summers then gets his meathooks into the publishing royalties for this album with the deeply embarrassing “Mother.” The Bedouin-scented music bed in itself is not awful. It’s Summers lead vocal which brings this literally crashing to a halt for its three minute length. Which seems far longer. Summers’ delivery has him seemingly under the influence of powerful and damaging drugs as he caterwauls the lyrics as if he’s trying to pass a kidney stone in the studio. Honestly, I feel for the guy every time that this cut comes on. Did he have no shame?
Next to that bomb crater, the relative failure of Stewart Copeland’s merely bland “Miss Gradenko” gives my ears a relative breather before plunging into the darkness of side two and all of those terrible singles. At least Copeland got Sting to mouth the lyrics, thus getting the Boss’s stamp os approval. But from the pen of the guy who enlivened many a previous Police album with his wit, this is still a big comedown.
The assault of top ten singles begins with the turgid and overblown “Synchronicity II,” which to this day I can’t listen to without thinking of Trouser Press’s comparison to the works of Iron Maiden. Summer’s wank-off solo outdoes Sting’s meaningless lyrics as the song’s most offensive component. The less said about the smug and self-satisfied “Every Breath You Take, ” the better. It’s a masterpiece of MOR that attempts pander while undercutting audience expectation in a deeply cynical fashion that I find repellent.
But these songs are fine art next to the jaw-dropping self-pastiche that was “The King Of Pain!” It’s almost as if Sting noted Copelands spot-on Sting parody on the previous album [“Darkness”] and thought “I’ll show him!” Sting takes the song into fully blown self-parodic territory without batting an eyelash. The track seems for all the world like what the writers of Spitting Image might have cooked up for a Sting parody song with lyrics like:
“There’s a king on a throne with his eyes torn out
There’s a blind man looking for a shadow of doubt
There’s a rich man sleeping on a golden bed
There’s a skeleton choking on a crust of bread
King of pain”
“A skeleton choking on a crust of bread…??!!” And who, besides a morose eleven year old would bother writing a song called “King of Pain” anyway?
The album limps to a close with the sluggish hit “Wrapped Around Your Finger” until it stops dead with the diffuse, proto-newage of “Tea In The Sahara.” Either of these songs are fully blown Sting solo epics of no merit. They perfectly presage his imminent solo career about to be unleashed on a world waiting with bated breath.
If one could take a copy of this album in a time machine back to 1978 and play it for the young group, I’m certain that shocked disbelief around the table would have been the result. True, Sting would have enjoyed it, but I’d wager that Summers and Copeland would have quit the band right there. The wiling calcification of the group into exactly the kind of dinosaurs that Copeland was trying so frantically to avoid becoming must count as some sort of personal tragedy for him. Possibly mitigated only by the millions and millions of dollars that this album and its attendant tour poured into his coffers by the shovelfuls. That’s right. Don’t listen to this Monk. Ten million copies of this weak tea stuffed the racks of lesser beings the world over. If I could have bought “Message In A Box” without disc 4, it would have made me a happier Monk. And for the awesome suck that this album engenders, it really takes the band’s Rock G.P.A. into a nosedive:
The Rock G.P.A. for The Police is compromised from a solid 3.0 for the first four albums to 2.6 or a faltering B- once “Synchronicity” works its “magic.” It’s odd how this band out of countless contenders managed to scramble their way to the top of the heap; becoming the most popular band in the world in a six year span. Looking back with hindsight, the relatively mediocre quality of Sting’s songs are probably the reason for that. They are so relentlessly middlebrow, that without the support of Copeland and Summers I can guarantee that I never would have taken notice of this band. Indeed, as my total disdain for Sting outside of the protective womb of this band brutally illustrates. As it is, their presence in the Record Cell is even so, something of an aberration. One that I might have corrected if not for coming to a new and richer appreciation of “Reggatta De Blanc” during the course of researching this Rock G.P.A.
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