The Police

 The Police

 Sting – circa 1980

“We can all sink or we all float / ‘Cos we’re all in the same big boat” – ‘One World (Not Three)’ (Sting)

The television camera rolls.  The three musicians shift their feet nervously.  This is not a promotion to publicise their latest recording.  So far they have only one single to their credit; they haven’t even recorded an album yet.  It is 1978 and this is an advertisement for Wrigley’s chewing gum.  The idea is for the commercial to feature ‘a would-be punk group.’  To this end, the three musicians complied with a request to bleach their hair blonde.  Quite why it was thought that punk bands were blonde is a mystery.  The punks were no more inclined to bleach their hair than any other type of group.  “Well, it paid the rent for a couple of weeks, and it was quite a laugh,” comments Sting, one third of The Police, the U.K. band appearing in the ad.  Sting’s wife, actress Frances Tomelty, had found them the gig through her theatrical agent.  Sting also appears in a commercial for Brutus Jeans.  “Doing adverts was the only way we could keep from starving, sometimes,” Sting acknowledges.  Warming to the topic, he continues, “But the best one I did was for Triumph bras.”  He is quick to point out, “I was an extra in the background, not the featured attraction…It had this real randy chick flashing her t**s at me for about six hours.  Nearly drove me mad.”

The Police keep their blonde hair throughout their subsequent recording career.  It becomes symbolic of the band.  However the way in which The Police acquired their distinctive ‘dos is also symbolic.  They pretended to be a punk band.  Though they rose to fame during the punk era, The Police were not really a punk outfit.  “Well, we never called ourselves punks,” Sting says.  Additionally, punk acts in their puritanical way would not stoop to ‘selling out’ by appearing in a commercial.  Money could never be seen as a motive.  “We like making money, we’ve never disguised the fact,” Sting points out.

The man who would come to be known as Sting is born Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner on 2 October 1951 in Wallsend, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England, United Kingdom.  His father, Eric Sumner, is a milkman – though he is ambitious enough to eventually own the dairy.  Eric Sumner is also an engineer.  Eric’s wife, Audrey, is a hairdresser.  Young Gordon Sumner has three siblings: Philip, Angela and Anita.  When the boy is 5 his family moves into a better neighbourhood.  His parents recognise and encourage Gordon’s academic abilities and send him to St. Cuthbert’s, a Catholic grammar school.  This separates him from his more working-class peers.  “In a way, I grew up not having many friends…They were all preparing to leave school and get jobs.  Down the mine.  In the shipyards…Grammar school was so nebulous, you know.  It was just a good status symbol for my parents,” Sting recalls.

When an uncle leaves for Canada for five years, his guitar is left behind.  Young Gordon Sumner takes up the instrument and teaches himself to play.  “I’d listen to The Beatles, The [Rolling] Stones, The Kinks.  Learning the chords to [The Kinks’] ‘Dead End Street’ was a major breakthrough,” says Sting, laughing at his younger self’s attempts to master mid-1960s British pop music.  Yet the youngster has a wider taste in music.  At 14 he borrows some jazz albums from a school mate and doggedly educates himself in jazz as much as pop.

When he is 17 Gordon Sumner spends some time on a Princess Cruise ship as a member of the Ronnie Pierson Trio, ‘a shipboard dance band.’  The experience gives the teenager a taste for both travel and performing.

Returning to England, Gordon Sumner attends Warwick University in Coventry to study English.  He doesn’t graduate.  In fact, he is only there for a term.  “I was lost, totally lost,” he says in retrospect.

Back in Newcastle, Gordon Sumner works a succession of jobs, trying to find his way.  “I enjoyed being a bus-conductor for six months after I left school,” he admits.  Then he works for six months on a building site, digging ditches for a construction crew.  “…I worked for the Inland Revenue [filing tax records as a clerk] for a while, in an office…[and] almost got the sack.”

Aged 18 Gordon Sumner begins playing bass in a Dixieland jazz band in a Newcastle pub called The Wheatsheaf.  He borrows the regular bassist’s upright double bass, but struggles with it.  One night, he shows up with his own electric bass much to the surprise of the rather more traditional musicians.

In his day job, Gordon Sumner decides to leave the civil service position with the Inland Revenue before he is dismissed.  He enrols at Northern Counties College of Education to train as a teacher.

Young Mr Sumner continues to play music.  He joins The Riverside Men, a Newcastle traditional jazz outfit whose members are all much older than he.  Still, he finds their company preferable to the local rock bands that all seem to play heavy metal. “I was only 20, but I didn’t have much time for them [i.e. the local metal acts],” he says.  A side gig as a bassist for a theatre troupe proves fateful, for it is there Gordon Sumner meets the Belfast-born actress Frances Tomelty who becomes his girlfriend.

In 1973 Gordon Sumner joins The Phoenix Jazzmen.  At one Phoenix show he turns up in a black-and-yellow striped jersey and fellow band member Gordon Solomon says he looks like a bee.  He takes to calling the bassist Sting for this reason.  The tag sticks – possibly because it was confusing having both Gordon Sumner and Gordon Solomon in the same band.

In 1974 he forms Last Exit.  This is a younger group, but the other members have a similar musical background to the bassist and are all accomplished jazz-rock players.  Last Exit make some forays to London, hawking demo tapes to record companies and receiving only rejections.  Sting manages to get himself a publishing contract.  “I thought, ‘I’m a real songwriter’…It was a…great thrill.”

After graduating, Sumner gets a position teaching English at St Paul’s First School (which is actually a secondary school) in Cramlington, near Newcastle.  He also serves as soccer coach at St Catherine’s Convent School, a Catholic school for girls.  Sumner works as a teacher for two years.  “I’m not sure they ever learned anything from me…I hated that school as much as they did.”  He remembers, “When I left teaching I wanted to be a serious musician.”

On 1 May 1976 Sting marries Frances Tomelty.  They have a son, Joseph (born 23 November 1976).  “In a sense, my son Joseph created a very nihilistic period [in my life.  I was] catatonically sullen for a full twelve months,” Sting reports.  “…I felt that…I’d had a good life with a lot of vivid experiences – but my child was entering a world that was increasingly small, increasingly polluted, increasingly mindless.”  Sting recovers sufficiently from this sort of male version of post-natal depression to have a second child with Frances, a daughter named Fuschia (born 17 April 1982).

Stewart Copeland sees Last Exit play a show at the Newcastle Polytechnic.  “It was a terrible gig,” he claims.  “Everybody was in their mid-30s and balding, and taking it very seriously…But Sting had…fantastic presence.”  The rest of Last Exit are reluctant to leave Newcastle, but Sting has greater ambitions.  “I…packed everything I owned into a car and drove off [to London]…The baby [Joe] was six weeks old.  The only thing that looked hopeful was this group that Stewart Copeland had called me about the week before we moved.  I told him I’d see him in London.”

Stewart Armstrong Copeland is born 16 July 1952 in Alexandria, Virginia, in the United States of America.  His father is Miles Copeland, Jr., a man who wears many hats.  He is a musician, an agent of the Central Intelligence Agency, and a political advisor.  Stewart’s mother, Lorraine Copeland (nee Adie) is a Scots-born archaeologist.  Stewart is the youngest of four children.  His elder siblings are Miles III (born 2 May 1944), Lorraine – or Lennie as she is called to distinguish her from her mother, and Ian (23 April 1949 – 23 May 2006).  The family moves to Cairo, Egypt, a few months after Stewart is born.  In 1957 they relocate to Beirut, Lebanon.  “We’d go nuts trying to get rock records,” Stewart says.  When Stewart Copeland is 12 he learns to play the drums.  The family lives in England from 1967 to 1969.  “I missed The Rolling Stones, missed The Beatles.  When we moved back to England the first [act] I saw was [guitar great] Jimi Hendrix.  I’d played in groups in Lebanon but never really saw what being in a group had to offer, till Jimi Hendrix,” concludes Copeland.  In the 1970s the Copeland family returns to the U.S.A. but Stewart and his brother Miles make their way back to the U.K. in 1974.  Miles begins to manage ‘prog-rock’ act Curved Air and Stewart gets work as a roadie for the band.  Stewart also becomes romantically involved with the band’s lead singer, Sonja Kristina.  Stewart Copeland then becomes the drummer for Curved Air from 1975 to 1976.  Following this, he plays a few gigs with Strontium 90.

The rise of punk rock changes Stewart Copeland’s perspective.  “[Punk pioneers] The Sex Pistols really got me off my a**,” says Stewart.  Copeland recruits Corsican-born guitarist Henri Padovani and bassist Sting.  It is Stewart Copeland who comes up with the name The Police for the trio.  When asked about the source of the sobriquet, Stewart later dryly quips that he saw it written on the side of a car somewhere.

The Police becomes a family business.  Stewart Copeland’s elder brother lends a hand.  Miles Copeland III becomes The Police’s manager and The Police’s first single, ‘Fall Out’ (UK no. 47), is issued in January 1977 on Illegal Records, an independent label set up by Miles and Stewart.  The band’s first show is in March 1977.  In summer 1977 The Police appear well down on the bill at a punk rock festival in Mont de Marsan in the south of France.  Soon after, guitarist Henri Padovani is sacked.  “Henri only knew about three chords,” Stewart admits.  “We had a twenty minute set and a twenty minute guitarist.”  Sting adds, “I can be very ruthless…We sacked a guitarist we all liked…because he stood in the way of our musical progress.”  Henri Padovani’s replacement is Andy Summers whom the group met at someone else’s recording session.

Andrew James Summers is born 31 December 1942 in Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire, England.  He has two brothers (Tony and Richard) and a sister (Monica).  The oldest of the three members of The Police, Andy Summers is also the first of them to enter the music business.  For two years, he is known as Andy Somers, but then reverts to his birth-name of Summers.  Andy Summers plays guitar with Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band (1964-1967), Dantalion’s Chariot (1967-1968), Soft Machine (1968), The New Animals (1968-1969) and Strontium 90 (1976-1977).  Stewart Copeland plays some gigs with the last-named outfit, so he has some knowledge of Andy Summers’ ability.  The guitarist marries singer Robin Lane in 1968 but they subsequently divorce in 1970.  He marries his second wife, American Kate Lunken, in 1973.  They divorce in 1981 but remarry again in 1986.  Along the way they have a daughter, Layla (born 1978) and twin sons, Maurice and Anton (born 1985).

The Police now exist in their best known form: Sting (vocals, bass), Andy Summers (guitar), Stewart Copeland (drums).

The Police are usually described either as a punk-reggae hybrid or a new wave act.  Punk rock is a movement beginning around 1976 that aims to strip away a lot of the pretension that has (at the time) become associated with rock music.  Their natural enemies are the grandiose ‘progressive rock’ bands…such as Curved Air, Stewart Copeland’s former outfit.  So it is somewhat ironic that it is Stewart who pushes the punk rock agenda in The Police.  “Musically, I thought Stewart’s ideas were s***,” is Sting’s blunt assessment.  At an early gig, the bassist announces, “Alright – we’re going to play some punk now, which means that the lyrics are banal and the music is terrible.”  “He was a dreadful reactionary,” Stewart reports.  With his background in jazz, Sting doesn’t find much challenge in punk and it seems like The Police might lose him.  Stewart Copeland finds a solution by introducing Sting to reggae music at a party.

Reggae is a loping music originating from the island of Jamaica in the Caribbean.  It is closely identified with the followers of the Rastafarian faith in that community.  There may seem little common ground between the hammering punk rock and the swaying reggae but, even as The Police are coming together, connections are already being made.  Both the punks and the Rastafarians are outsiders, minorities at odds with what they consider repressive authority.  Both have a political cause to convey in their music.  Bob Marley, the figurehead of reggae, records a song called ‘Punky Reggae Party’ on the B side to his 1977 single ‘Jammin’’.  This extends a friendly hand to kindred spirits despite their differing musical styles.  Then, in 1978, The Clash (who are second only to The Sex Pistols in punk’s hierarchy) release the song ‘(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais’.  This is a punk act performing what is clearly reggae music.

“I’d always wanted to make a connection between the energetic music of punk and more sophisticated forms,” Sting insists.  “What eventually allowed me to do it was listening to reggae.  Bob Marley, especially.  I saw a rhythmic connection between the fast bass of punk and the holes in reggae.  I got interested in trying to write songs that combined these apparently diverse styles.”

Although The Police are born during punk’s boom, by the time they begin to make a mark, punk is already fading to be replaced by its quirkier younger relation, new wave.  The Police’s punk-reggae hybrid sits more comfortably with new wave’s broader boundaries.  “The new wave opened up a lot of doors for bands, and we can explore those things a lot more easily now,” Sting comments.

An important part of The Police’s sound is their structure as a trio.  It’s not a particularly common configuration in rock.  Before The Police, the best known trios were The Jimi Hendrix Experience (featuring the guitarist who was such a revelation to Stewart Copeland) and their late 1960s contemporaries, Cream.  Both acts are based on blues music and act as showcases for their guitarist’s pyrotechnics (the playing of Eric Clapton in the case of Cream).  Although the rhythm sections of both acts have very talented bassists and drummers, they are often forced into a rather basic metronomic function, just keeping time while the guitarists take the spotlight.  The Police invert this triangle.  Sting and Stewart Copeland act like ‘lead’ musicians and Andy Summers, talented though he is, has to try to keep the music from falling apart by providing a steady centre.  “In a three-piece everyone has to make it hot for each other,” Stewart Copeland suggests.  Sting describes their chemistry this way: “Basically it’s me versus Stewart at times – we both have enormous egos – and Andy sort of coasts along over and around the two of us.”  On another occasion Sting says, “Stewart and I have an intense rivalry which is at times destructive, but is often creative.”  The three musicians are all very adept players.  “We never set out to be muso’s musicians,” contends Copeland, but nonetheless they are acclaimed by their peers.  Andy Summers may have to balance the Sting/Stewart tug-of-war but, when he gets the opportunity, he displays an inventiveness that makes it clear why he was found worthy while Henri Padovani was sacked.  Stewart Copeland’s lanky frame facilitates his hyperactive, highly percussive, style.  No surface on his Tama drum kit goes untapped and his snare sound is an unusual and distinctive dry crack as opposed to rock music’s more familiar wet thud.  As for Sting’s bass playing, Stewart tells an informative anecdote about Sting buying a fretless bass.  Frets are small strips of wood inlaid on the neck of the instrument so the player can feel where the position for a note is and can apply his fingertips accordingly.  Playing a fretless instrument is reliant entirely on the nous of the musician, his ability to find just the right positions through instinct alone.  It’s like swinging on a trapeze without a net to catch you.  Stewart relates that, on the day Sting bought the fretless bass, he broke his old bass so he would be forced to learn the new instrument and not be tempted to take a backwards step.  That’s the kind of musician he is.

Sting’s voice is high and straining, imparting a husky urgency to the songs of The Police.  “I never tried to disguise the high voice,” he says.  “I never felt embarrassed about it [because it does not sound as masculine].  I used to love voices like that.  [The Beatles’] Paul McCartney has that kind of voice – I loved him.  It just cuts through everything.  Slices through the whole band.”

Sting is the main songwriter in The Police.  Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland usually get to write, or co-write with Sting, a track or two on each Police album, but the rest of the compositions belong to their bassist.  “It doesn’t surprise me that he’s turned out to be a great songwriter,” Copeland argues.  “I wanted him to write.  I wanted him to sing.  I wanted him in the group…I hope he makes lots and lots and lots of money.  I’m more interested in safeguarding the future of the group [than competing to see who gets the most songwriting credits and earns the most royalties.]”

If there is a central theme to Sting’s songwriting, it is loneliness.  This may date back to him being a boy who “grew up not having many friends.”  He asserts, “Everybody feels lonely…I feel lonely making love to my wife.  It’s like we’re all here but we’re totally isolated, no matter how close you are to one person or a hundred you’re always totally isolated.  And I find that compelling as an image.”

With Andy Summers joining The Police in 1977, they go on to dye their hair blonde in 1978 for the Wrigley’s chewing gum commercial.  “Three blonde hairs, the macho name…It’s very cleverly put together,” Sting says of the group’s image.

The breakthrough comes with a song.  “We were rehearsing in this p***-awful cellar in Finchley,” Andy Summer explains.  “It was freezing cold and the rehearsals were going dreadfully.  I knew that Sting had had the chords for ‘Roxanne’ for ages…We said, ‘Let’s have a go at that song’…We changed it around…and thought, ‘Mmmm.  Not a bad song.  Rather good, in fact.’”  Manager Miles Copeland is even more enthusiastic.  With a tape of ‘Roxanne’ in hand, he secures a recording contract for The Police with a major label, A & M.  Ironically, neither ‘Roxanne’ nor the follow-up, ‘Can’t Stand Losing You’, do much on the charts when first released in 1978 – but they do better when rereleased shortly afterwards.  The Police head off to tour the U.S.A. on a very low budget.

The Police’s debut album is ‘Outlandos D’Amour’ (1978) (UK no. 6, US no. 23, AUS no. 15).  It was going to be called ‘Outlaws Of Love’ but is changed to make it sound more exotic – but the new title translates to (roughly) the same thing.  The highpoint is ‘Roxanne’ (UK no. 12, US no. 32), ‘Sting’s reggae-flavoured serenade to a French whore.’  “Roxanne / You don’t have to put on the red light / Those days are over / You don’t have to sell your body to the night,” sings the bassist in this taut and tense number.  The almost suicidal ‘Can’t Stand Losing You’ (UK no. 2) also makes a strong impact.  However, ‘So Lonely’ (UK no. 6) may be more representative.  “Now no-one’s knocked upon my door / For a thousand years or more,” mourns Sting in this tale of crushing solitude.  It also features one of Andy Summers’ best guitar solos, a break that almost sounds like a tape being played in reverse due to its lack of conventionality.  ‘Next To You’ is a frothing example of The Police at their most punk-influenced.  Stewart Copeland co-writes the dive-bombing vitriol of ‘Peanuts’, while Andy Summers’ spoken-word story of a blow-up sex doll, ‘Sally’, is tacked onto Sting’s catchy ‘Be My Girl’.  ‘Outlandos D’Amour’ is officially produced by The Police but this disc’s engineer, Nigel Gray, shares production credit with the band on their next two albums.  The Police ‘would get bigger, but they never sounded fresher’ than on their debut.

The Police follow up with ‘Regatta De Blanc’ (1979) (UK no. 1, US no. 25, AUS no. 1) in November.  The title of this album very roughly translates to ‘white reggae’.  The title track, ‘Regatta De Blanc’, is a sort of instrumental (there are some vocalisations, but not words) in the shape of exploratory reggae.  This is ‘a more evenly constructed and developed set of songs.’  ‘Deathwish’, as well as the title track, is credited as a group composition.  This album has the highest number of songs from Stewart Copeland.  He pens ‘On Any Other Day’, ‘Contact’ and ‘Does Everyone Stare’ and co-writes the pulverising ‘It’s Alright For You’ with Sting.  However it is still Sting who contributes the best moments.  Andy Summers’ jagged guitar figure prefaces ‘Message In A Bottle’ (UK no. 1, US no. 74), another hymn to loneliness: “Seems I’m not alone in being alone / A hundred billion castaways / All looking for a home.”  “We’re interested in making people think,” Sting tells an interviewer.  “I think the lyrics to ‘Message In A Bottle’ are subtle enough and well-crafted enough to hit people on a different level from something you just sing along with…I’m very proud of that song.”  This album also contains the swaggering, swaying, swinging reggae pop of ‘Walking On The Moon’ (UK no. 1), The Police’s best song.  Sting says of this song, “I think ‘Walking On The Moon’ is a good metaphor…for feeling good.”  Thus the loved-up narrator exults, “Walking back from your house / Walking on the moon / Feet they hardly touch the ground / Walking on the moon.”  ‘The mutant reggae’ of ‘The Bed’s Too Big Without You’ also draws some attention.

The Police tour the world in 1980 putting on concerts not only in the usual markets for rock but also more exotic locales such as India in March.  Partly, this is just for their own stimulation and adventure, but Stewart Copeland has a more personal motivation: “[I] remember what it was like growing up [in Lebanon] a long way from the rock culture…And that’s why we can go and play places like Bombay [renamed Mumbai from November 1995] and Cairo.”

The first two Police albums were recorded at Surrey Sound in England but the third is laid down at Wissellord Studios in Hilversum in the Netherlands.  ‘Zenyatta Mondatta’ (1980) (UK no. 1, US no. 5, AUS no. 1) is an album whose title, in contrast to its predecessors, is pure nonsense and doesn’t translate to anything at all.  By this time the reggae rock hybrid of the trio has been blended together much more completely so it sounds less like the sum of its parts and more like, simply, the trademark airy sound of The Police.  This album is also described as ‘their most blatantly commercial.’  The pop strength of ‘Don’t Stand So Close To Me’ (UK no. 1, US no. 10) does not prevent it sometimes being frowned upon as symptomatic of a lack of community, a world that puts distance between us all.  Really, it is about inappropriate classroom behaviour, probably inspired by Sting’s days as a teacher: “Young teacher / The subject / Of schoolgirl fantasy.”  Perhaps even more unjustly maligned is ‘De Do Do Do De Da Da Da’ (UK no. 5, US no. 10) due it its baby-talk name and infernally attractive melody.  It is really an insightful view of those moments when “words are hard to find” and “their eloquence escapes you” which is surely a common experience for all humanity.  A better critical reception is afforded ‘Driven To Tears’.  Sting explains the song’s theme this way: “What are you left with when you’re faced with atrocities?  You see it all the time in the papers, but what do you do?  Basically…all you can do…is cry…really.”  A steely propulsion underpins this account of passion fatigue.  ‘When The World Is Running Down, You Make The Best Of What’s Still Around’ also adopts a more socially conscious stance.  ‘Canary In A Coalmine’ and ‘Man In A Suitcase’ maintain the familiar Police dancing-on-coals rhythms.  Stewart Copeland offers ‘Bombs Away’ and the instrumental closer ‘The Other Way Of Stopping’, while Andy Summers contributes another instrumental, ‘Behind My Camel’.

‘Ghost In The Machine’ (1981) (UK no. 1, US no. 2, AUS no. 1) is the first of two albums co-produced by The Police and Hugh Padgham.  Most of the album is recorded on the Caribbean island of Montserrat, but the breezy single, ‘Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic’ (UK no. 1, US no. 3), is laid down in Quebec, Canada, with Jean Roussel making a guest appearance on keyboards.  The luckless Romeo narrating the song asks,”Do I have to tell the story / Of a thousand rainy days since we first met? / It’s a big enough umbrella / But it’s always me that ends up getting wet.”  The album as a whole has a much more serious purpose.  It is inspired by behavioural psychologist Arthur Koestler’s book ‘Ghost in the Machine’ (1967) about the relationship between the human mind and body.  It takes the work of Gilbert Ryle as a jumping off point, though this owes some debt to the philosopher Rene Descartes as well.  So this finds Sting claiming we are all ‘Spirits In The Material World’ (UK no. 12, US no. 11); ‘Too Much Information’ is braying at him; he accusingly urges ‘Rehumanize Yourself’ (co-written with Stewart Copeland); and he reaches some sort of acceptance at the end of a ‘Secret Journey’ (US no. 46).  The standard Police sound is largely forsaken by this album.  The wide-open interaction of three happy minstrels is replaced by a darker, more musically dense, sonic landscape.  There is no breathing space; it is stuffed to overflowing by Sting honking on a saxophone or Andy Summers’ new toy, the guitar synthesiser (basically a keyboard synthesiser redesigned to be used by those – like Summers – more at home with a stringed instrument).  Along the way, there is ‘Invisible Sun’ (UK no. 2), a brooding look at the contemporary violence in Ireland, the homeland of Sting’s wife, Frances Tomelty: “I don’t want to spend the rest of my days / Keeping out of trouble like the soldiers say.”  It’s a song that’s easy to admire, but hard to love.  ‘One World (Not Three)’ is the nearest thing to reggae on the album.  Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland also attempt to be more profound with their pieces, ‘Omegaman’ and ‘Darkness’, respectively.  “Through reading ‘Ghost in the Machine’ [Koestler’s book], I became more spiritual in a very scientific way,” Sting claims.

In 1981 Stewart Copeland fathers a son, Patrick, from a relationship with Marina Guinness.  However, in 1982 it is his long-time love, Sonja Kristina, whom he marries.  He adopts her son, Sven, from a previous relationship.  Stewart and Sonja go on to have two sons of their own, Jordan and Scott.

Meantime, Sting’s marriage to Frances Tomelty is rapidly falling apart.  This provides a dark undercurrent to his songs on The Police’s next album. “I do my best work when I’m in pain and turmoil,” Sting advises and this is proved true.

‘Synchronicity’ (1983) (UK no. 1, US no. 1, AUS no. 1) is The Police’s best album.  Like all their releases it is uneven, but in this case the highs are higher, resulting in a superior product.  Again, the recording sessions are split between Quebec and Montserrat.  The concept of synchronicity comes from another of Arthur Koestler’s works, ‘The Roots of Coincidence’ (1974).  “After reading Koestler, I started to read [the work of psychiatrist] Carl Jung and the ‘I Ching’ [the Chinese philosophical fortune-telling system pronounced ‘ee ching’],” Sting explains.  What this all boils down to is a theory that everything is interconnected, that there is a link between things that, on the surface, are unrelated.  The album opens with “ a dream dance” called ‘Synchronicity I’.  This complex rhythm of xylophone-like sounds is paired with the gusty Armageddon of ‘Synchronicity II’ (UK no. 17, US no. 16) that closes side one, a fable of the Loch Ness Monster rising up to destroy blind, soulless humanity.  This, in turn, echoes ‘Walking In Your Footsteps’, a tropical jungle of sound, in which mankind follows the path of the dinosaurs to extinction.  ‘O My God’ is the nearest thing to reggae and it revisits Sting’s favoured theme of loneliness: “Everyone I know is lonely / And God’s so far away / And my heart belong to no one / So now sometimes I pray / Take the space between us / And fill it up some way.”  This track also quotes ‘Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic’ in the outro.  The rest of side one is completed by Andy Summers’ ‘Mother’ and Stewart Copeland’s ‘Miss Gradenko’.  The four Sting songs that make up the other half of ‘Synchronicity’ comprise a sophisticated tapestry of music.  ‘Every Breath You Take’ (UK no. 1, US no. 1) is very popular but, all too often, listeners don’t understand it.  Commonly mistaken for a charming love song, couples use it at weddings.  Yet its author describes it this way: “I think it’s a nasty little thing, really rather evil.  It’s about jealousy, surveillance and ownership.”  Consider these lyrics: “Every move you make / Every vow you break / Every smile you fake / Every claim you stake / I’ll be watching you.”  As for the melody, Sting acknowledges it “is an archetypal song.  If you have a major chord followed by a relative minor, you’re not original.”  Sting is said to have written ‘Every Breath You Take’ ‘after waking up in the middle of the night from a dream.’  ‘King Of Pain’ (UK no. 17, US no. 3) is a cry of existential angst, but it is couched in a pseudo-Oriental frame of exquisite keyboard touches.  ‘Wrapped Around Your Finger’ (UK no. 7, US no. 8) adopts a candlelit Turkish motif for its tale of a servant who becomes a master – though it’s ambiguous enough to be about two lovers if that is a preferable interpretation.  The album closes with ‘Tea In The Sahara’, a song based on the novel ‘The Sheltering Sky’ (1949) by Paul Bowles.  Andy Summers conjures bruised atmospherics for the song with skilful manipulation of the guitar synthesiser.  Looking over the album – and its attendant commercial success – Sting exclaims, “My God!  It’s absolute poison!  People don’t know what they’re hearing!”

In 1983 The Police announce they are taking ‘a sabbatical.’  It’s a break from which they never return – at least not in a permanent manner.

Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland all release solo albums.  Predictably, Sting is the only one to carve out a successful solo career.

Sting becomes romantically involved with actress/film producer Trudie Styler.  His divorce from Frances Tomelty is finalised in March 1984.  Sting and Trudie Styler have four children: a daughter named Brigitte Michael a.k.a. Mickey (born 19 January 1984); a son, Jake (born 24 May 1985); a daughter called Eliot Paulina a.k.a. Coco (born 30 July 1990); and a son, Giacomo (born 17 December 1995).  Before the birth of their last child, Sting and Trudie get around to marrying on 20 August 1992.

The Police attempt a reunion in 1986.  A ‘greatest hits’ compilation is planned and, rather than do the usual thing, rumour has it that The Police will rework and rearrange all their hits and record new versions of the songs.  As it turns out, only one song is given this treatment: ‘Don’t Stand So Close To Me ‘86’ (UK no. 24, US no. 46).  It’s an interesting, dense, guitar-heavy reinterpretation, but still probably not the equal of the comparatively spartan 1980 version.  The rest of ‘Every Breath You Take: The Singles’ (1986) (UK no. 1, US no. 7, AUS no. 4) is the traditional original recordings.

Stewart Copeland’s marriage to Sonja Kristina ends in 1991.  With his second wife, Fiona Dent, Stewart has three daughters: Eve, Grace and Celeste.

The Police briefly reunite at Sting’s wedding to Trudie Styler in 1992.

The next time the trio come together is to play a few numbers at the investiture of The Police in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003.  On the occasion, Sting says, “I am very proud of the legacy of The Police.  We are a damn good band and it still holds up.”  The same year, Sting becomes a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.).

‘Broken Music’ (2003) is Sting’s autobiography.  ‘One Train Later’ (2006) is Andy Summers’ memoir.  Stewart Copeland takes a different path, issuing the video documentary ‘Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out’ (2006).

The Police reunite for a concert tour from 28 May 2007 to 7 August 2008.

Although they emerged at the height of punk rock, The Police were never really punks.  Their punk credentials were about as fake as the bleached-blonde hair they sported.  Yet this lack of authenticity also allowed them to outlast the genre, reach a much wider audience than ‘pure’ punks, and – arguably – produce more creatively satisfying and more durable music.  The blend of reggae and new wave worked well and the tasteful, imaginative musicianship of the three group members was superlative.  The music of The Police was much more lasting than a chewing gum advertisement.  ‘..As their career progressed, The Police grew considerably more adventurous, experimenting with jazz and various world musics.  All the while, the band’s tight delivery and mastery of the pop single kept their audience increasing…’ ‘Instrumental finesse, excellence of playing, brash power, breathtaking vocal talent, unabashed pop glamour – The Police had it all.’

Sources:

  1. The Police FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) – stingetc.com as at 16 September 2013
  2. ‘The Police Book’, ‘Pulling in America for Questioning’ – uncredited author (Soundtracts Publishing Pty. Ltd.’ 1980) p. 19
  3. ‘The Police Book’, ‘First Time is the Sweetest’ by Mark Williams (Soundtracts Publishing Pty. Ltd.’ 1980) p. 21, 22, 23
  4. ‘Rock Stars’ by Timothy White (Columbus Books, 1984) p. 270, 273, 274
  5. ‘The Police Book’, ‘The Pressure on The Police’ by Allan Jones (Soundtracts Publishing Pty. Ltd.’ 1980) p. 63, 67
  6. Internet movie database imdb.com as at 26 October 2013
  7. Notable names database – nndb.com – as at 16 September 2013
  8. wikipedia.org as at 16 September 2013
  9. ‘The Police Book’, ‘Sting: Can’t Stand Losing’ by Allan Jones (Soundtracts Publishing Pty. Ltd.’ 1980) p. 6, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14
  10. ‘The Police Book’, ‘The Bombay Sting’ by Paul Morley (Soundtracts Publishing Pty. Ltd.’ 1980) p. 52, 57, 58, 59, 60
  11. stingme.dk as at 23 September 2013
  12. ‘The Police Book’, ‘The Message is in How they Did It’ by Anthony O’Grady (Soundtracts Publishing Pty. Ltd.’ 1980) p. 33, 34
  13. ‘The History of Rock’ by Mark Paytress (Parragon Books, 2011) p. 214
  14. ‘The Police Book’, ‘Getting Used to Superstardom’ by Nick Kent (Soundtracts Publishing Pty. Ltd.’ 1980) p. 25, 27
  15. ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 166, 247
  16. ‘Friday On My Mind’ by Ed Nimmervoll (Five Mile Press, 2004) p. 121
  17. ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’, ‘Anarchy in the U.K.’ by Greil Marcus (Plexus Publishing, 1992), p. 607
  18. ‘The Police Book’, ‘The Police Downunda’ by Anthony O’Grady (Soundtracts Publishing Pty. Ltd.’ 1980) p. 45
  19. ‘The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time’ – ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (February 2004) p. 67, 70, 72
  20. ‘Zenyatta Mondatta’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (A & M Records Inc., 1980) p. 2
  21. ‘Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 323
  22. ‘Ghost In The Machine’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (A & M Records Inc., 1981) p. 4
  23. ‘Synchronicity’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (A & M Records Inc., 2003 reissue) p. 11
  24. songfacts.com as at 31 October 2013
  25. allmusic.com, ‘The Police’ by Stephen Thomas Erlewine as at 26 October 2013
  26. ‘The Police Book’, ‘Introduction’ by Anthony O’Grady (Soundtracts Publishing Pty. Ltd.’ 1980) p. 3

Song lyrics copyright Warner/Chappell Music – GM Sumner, administered by EMI Music Publishing, Ltd.

Last revised 7 December 2013

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