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Few bands in history have enjoyed the impact the Police created when they started up in the late seventies. Nobody knew who they were, but when Sting began belting out “Roxanne” over the radio airwaves, it was the beginning of an era. Through five studio albums – and God willing, perhaps the recently reunited band will provide us with a sixth album in the not too distant future – the band had its share of hit singles, in particular “Every Breath You Take,” which was a global #1. But many less acclaimed songs on each record were works of art in their own way, and a sampling follows…
"Hole in My Life" – Outlandos d’Amour
With no disrespect to the likes of Sublime, and other bands of the last 20 or 30 years who have added reggae flavors to their music, Sting and the boys really put on a clinic of how to play white reggae with this track. It’s not pretentious and they aren’t trying too hard; instead, it’s a song that can be appreciated if you like reggae or if you don’t, if you smoke weed or if you don’t, and if you like the Police or if you don’t. It’s just a good song, delivered with feeling.
"Truth Hits Everybody" – Outlandos d’Amour
This track exemplifies the Police in their raw punk stage, before the sound began to move in a more radio-friendly direction. Crunchy guitars, bouncing bass lines, and thrashing drums jump out of the whole CD, but the melody and hooks of this song in particular want to grab you and shake you. Two minutes and 55 seconds of pure pop/punk bliss, and I’m not talking about the whiny pop/punk crap of today.
"Be My Girl – Sally" – Outlandos d’Amour
This is the kind of song that might even make a dude who can’t dance jump around like an idiot, especially after a few drinks. When listening to the story in the middle of the song where the music completely dies down, you come to realize that Sally is a blow-up doll, making the track something of a Monty Python skit surrounded by a refrain of, simply, "Won’t you be my, be my, be my girl?"
If the second Police album hadn’t already spawned such mega-hits as "Message in a Bottle" and "Walking on the Moon," this three-minute pop ditty could have been a chart-topper as well. You get the feeling Sting could write this kind of song while blindfolded and with both hands tied behind his back. Andy Summers has a nice slide guitar solo, and his riffs and tone later in the song are a precursor to the sounds he’d generate on "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da" and "Every Breath You Take."
"Bed’s Too Big without You" – Regatta de Blanc
This is one of those tracks where the Police really stretch their collective musical muscle. One thing that is perplexing, yet amazing, is the way Sting can play syncopated bass lines while singing the melody of the song. And the reggae feel makes you want to smoke a big fat spleef, mon.
"Canary in a Coalmine" – Zenyatta
Over the span of five albums, the Police occasionally seemed to be having a lot of fun on certain tracks, and this is one of them. From the title, to the breezy and carefree feel, to instrumental parts that just bounce all over the place, "Canary in a Coalmine" is one of the Police’s catchiest deep cuts. Put this on a party mix and your guests are almost guaranteed to have a good time. Well, as long as the food doesn’t suck.
"Man in a Suitcase" – Zenyatta Mondatta
This is another bouncy, fun song that features a healthy dose of Sting harmonizing with himself. Not only that, but the band’s instrumental prowess, particularly Sting’s ridiculously precise bass playing, is in plain view.
"Shadows in the Rain" – Zenyatta Mondatta
This is one of those tracks that sounds like the band just started noodling in the studio and came up with a song in five minutes. Heck, maybe they did exactly that. It’s a slow, pulsing, reggae/blues jam with vocals (and vocal acrobatics) thrown in. And while it may not be one of the band’s best efforts, it does showcase its incredible versatility.
Egads, Sting can even sing in French! Throughout Ghost in the Machine, the band relies on a slicker, more produced sound that would become more evident on the last two Police albums. Gone were the raw, three-chord power songs – and here to stay was a band that liked to experiment and keep refining its sound.
"Too Much Information" – Ghost in the Machine
Using a batch of horns for effect, as well as shouting and swirling guitars, this is a song whose production pretty much mirrors its title. This is also another one in which Sting harmonizes with himself like it’s his job. It’s also lyrically a mirror for how far ahead of their time the Police were, because with all of today’s stimuli, this song could easily be about life in the present.
"One World (Not Three)" – Ghost in the Machine
What a simple, yet profound sentiment: "One world is enough for all of us." The chorus consists simply of that line repeated a few times. Musically, this is another of those upbeat, reggae-infused tracks where the guitar hits on the second and fourth beats of every measure. Toward the end of the track, the guitar drops out so Sting and Stewart Copeland can improvise a bit while Sting croons the refrain, "One World…"
"Secret Journey" – Ghost in the Machine
After about 45 seconds of eerie synth sounds, the band kicks in, with Summers’ pulsing guitar riffs driving the song. The verses are kind of eerie and dark as well, but with more of an uplifting chorus. Overall, this is one of the best Police songs not to be any kind of hit, and it shows how much more adventurous the band were on their last two albums.
"Darkness" – Ghost in the Machine
Yet even more of Sting’s vocal harmonies, but that’s okay when the songs are as cool as "Darkness." Just like with "Secret Journey" – not to mention a lot of other songs on this particular album – there is a healthy dose of keyboards and other sound textures. Sting’s bass line on this one is simple, yet undeniably compelling.
There are some world beats going on in this song that might bring to mind the "Seinfeld" episode where Kramer is dating Elaine’s roommate and they are dancing around the apartment to African music. But there’s much more than that: this is a hypnotic song with lots of interesting percussion, and some very addictive melodies that also have a tribal feel. Sting kicks things up vocally when he sings the chorus an octave higher.
"Tea in the Sahara" – Synchronicity
As groundbreaking as Ghost in the Machine was at the time, Synchronicity really showcased a group establishing itself as one of the greatest rock bands of all time. With each passing album, Sting began to sing more and scream less; this song, in particular, featured simple instrumental parts and singsong melodies, and it’s got the overall vibe of, well, sitting in the middle of the desert with Sting and being served tea by some Arab dude.