Man, I have not listened to The Police in a long time. But, for some reason I felt compelled to put their deceptively great second album, Reggatta de Blanc. Well, did that album take me back. It seems that I hear more in the grooves of this album than I have ever heard back when my hormones were raging. But, I did not stop with that album. I followed it with what might arguably be the band’s masterpiece, 1980’s Zenyatta Mondatta.
I still remember purchasing that album while going to some high school academic club weekend state-wide convention. I remember sneaking out of the convention with some rock-loving friends of mine, as well as the girl I was dating at the time, who was only with us because she wanted to hang out with me, I guess. The rest of us were on serious business to find a record store in order to pick up some music that wouldn’t be popular with the majority of kids at our high school. That day, I personally walked away with Devo’s classic debut album Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo and The Police’s aforementioned third studio album.
Needless to say, The Police completed their transformation from a punk/reggae-influenced new wave band with loads of nervous energy, sophisticated musicianship and scholarly lyrics whom many people in my world thought was “punk” into a worldly band poised to become a stadium-filling and million-selling album artist. On Zenyatta Mondatta, the empty spaces between notes being played became longer and longer, meaning this band’s music was becoming something akin to jazz, except this was rock music.
This was the album that finally broke the band in the US. Instead of a minor hit, like they had with “Roxanne,” or the non-hits The Police released from their second album, Reggatta de Blanc, such as “Message in the Bottle” and “Walking on the Moon.” Now, their hits were brushing the Top 10 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 Singles Chart. Those two singles, “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” and “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” have become classics in the own right. It’s almost as though as The Police’s music grew more complex, the public understood it better. You can see that as their next two albums, Ghosts in the Machine and Synchronicity reach number two and number one, respectively, on Billboard’s Top 200 Album Chart. But, their whole success in the US began with this album, as sales pushed it all the way to number 5 on the chart.
The album begins on Side One with the eerie synthesized sounds of droning as it segues into “Don’t Stand So Close to Me.” This song is not your typical pop song theme, as it deals with the attraction between a young female student and her male teacher, all the while the lyrics are comparing it to the book Lolita without ever naming it. Sting, the band’s bassist, vocalist and main songwriter, coyly clues us into that book by name-dropping the author Nabokov. Side One runs through some of the band’s least alternative-sounding music, often with lyrics calling out worldly concerns. My personal favorite song comes in the middle of all of these worldly affairs with a little personal declaration of love in the form of “When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What’s Still Around.” This song brings in a little personal humanity in the form of love for another that allows us to keep our sanity while the rest of the world is spinning down the proverbial toilet.
The other hit song, “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da,” jump starts Side Two. Now, this is a deceptive love song, dressed up in the simple language of baby talk, as if we were to strip all worldly concerns and languages away to the core emotions that will keep humanity working as the society collapses around us. It is these moments of sophisticated levity that keeps this album’s music grounded as The Police without the band morphing into ultra-serious cats like Rush.
What makes The Police’s lyrics so poetic is that Sting, before he became a full-time professional musician was an English teacher. This frees up the other two, drummer Stewart Copeland and guitarist Andy Summer, to take those songs in magical places through their unparalleled musicianship.
To me, Zenyatta Mondatta was the album when The Police made the jump from a club band to a world-wide sensation. Boy, I am sure glad I rediscovered it today. By the end of the day, I will have gone through their whole discography, which should have never ended so quickly as it did. As great as their whole career was, I sure have missed what they might have recorded. And, as fine of album Sting released immediately upon the demise of The Police, those albums would have become classics in the hands of The Police as opposed to session musicians, no matter how great they are.
The Police are truly a missed opportunity. But, isn’t that the history of the many bands that broke up too soon in their careers.