My reviews of albums by The Police:
1978: Outlandos d’Amour (7/10)
The Police’s debut album is a bouncy energetic thing, with way better than you’d expect musicianship for their music scene and the kind of performances you would require from that same scene. Much of what initially captivated people about this band, present on this album, would disappear by the end of their career.
The fusion is pretty unique; as Sting has noted in interviews, they leaned into the reggae more than the punk bands, to try to give themselves a distinguishing feature and it works. But what really works is that these guys are fantastic musicians who could play circles around basically any of the punk musicians, most of whom were competent but that’s it and some of whom weren’t even competent. (Of course lack of competence was viewed as an asset by many at the time.)
For me, the reason this record doesn’t stand up with their later records has nothing do with the performances but everything to do with the songs. Sting has written at least three classics here and it’s clear that, even at this early stage, he’s a pretty great songwriter, able to convey pretty complex stories and thoughts in what amount to brief punky pop songs. But the consistently really dips outside of the most famous tracks here and, worse, when they get experimental, it just doesn’t work as well as it would later on. (I am thinking of “Be My Girl – Sally” which pairs an inane Sting song with Andy Summer’s performance art.) There’s not enough here, song wise, for me to think this record is essential, despite how much I like the vibe. (Also, I get a real kick of out of “Born in the 50s” given Andy Summers’ birth date.)
If you really like the Police, you’ll like this. But they got better basically right away, as Sting improved as a songwriter, as did the other two when they were allowed, and they got more interesting musically. It’s still pretty good, and they were doing something unique, but the consistency isn’t there yet.
1979: Reggatta de Blanc (8/10)
I wrote this sometime in the distant past:
It took me a little while to get into this but it is generally pretty solid. Obviously it’s not like other pop-rock albums, as it full of their trademark strange times and rhythms and their sometimes slightly literary lyrics. My favourite part is probably Andy Summers’ tribute to Neil Young on “Bring on the Night,” where he pretty much becomes him on the guitar solo, which is sweet.
I like this record. It is not my favourite but I generally like all of their albums except Ghost in the Machine.
1980: Zenyatta Mondatta (9/10)
This has fast become my favourite Police album. It’s more sophisticated than their earliest work and it also avoids the whole “Sting’s backing band” of the last stuff. There was some filler on first listen (mostly the instrumentals) but these have grown on me along with the rest.
For one thing I think this album proves, as much as any of their albums, that they were perhaps the most literate (without being indecipherable) band – at least the most literate mainstream band – of their era.
This music has the energy of their earliest music with the interesting musical ideas which would continue fairly unabated through the remaining albums. And of course they were still a band, which is nice.
1981: Ghost in the Machine (6/10)
This is, for me, the weakest Police record: it’s top heavy – the first three tracks, the singles, are far and away the best ones – it’s the first record to really emphasize the growing musical divide between Sting and the rest of the band, and it’s just their weakest set of songs.
I’d say that it’s certainly the least essential of their albums and the album that most makes me feel like they were deserving of the title of “singles band.”
1983: Synchronicity (9/10)
The best thing about The Police was their ability to create short, catchy, vaguely punky pop rock songs with a reggae tinge, full of interesting musical ideas stolen from jazz and other forms of art music. This makes them a great band, in my mind. But if I had one criticism of the band when it was more democratic and less ambitious, it’s that they were a singles band. They would manage a few classic songs (“Can’t Stand Losing You” is my favourite) with catchy melodies and literary lyrics but then you get the album and the quality kind of plummets from the hits. It is only with time that I’ve been able to really like some of their earlier albums, because their songwriting just isn’t there.
Well, this is the album where that ends. For the first and only time in their career every song is good to great. This comes at a sacrifice, however, as this band is now very much a Sting dictatorship and some of the excitement and energy of the earlier records is gone. (Given how much they fought, it’s amazing this sounds so good.)
But all bands (save AC/DC) evolve. And, for the most part, I think this is their best record despite and because of the change. Also, it’s far better than any Sting solo album.