Review Summary: A slight Sophomore stumble.
The Police Discography
Part 2: Reggatta De Blanc - The step back
One of the more dreaded quandaries in music is the all too common, almost stereotypical sophomore slump. Many theories abound regarding its alienating presence, but regardless if it stems from growing pains, a lack of fresh ideas, or fatigue, legions of bands throughout rock history have been saddled with the overwhelming pressure of crafting a solid successor to a landmark debut album. The Police vaulted to stardom relatively quickly on the heels of their 1978 debut, “Outlandos d’Armour,” an energetic, well written effort that rode the wave of buzz generated by memorable singles “Roxanne,” “Can’t Stand Losing You,” and “So Lonely.” The record was an effective launching pad for Sting and company, showcasing the initial stages of their vast musicianship colliding with focused energy and mostly streamlined songwriting. The logical question after a near watershed debut is would the follow up album live up to expectations, or would The Police fall into the same knarled Sophomore trap like so many of their brethren.
In studying The Police from a career standpoint, it is clear that Sting, guitarist Andy Summers, and drummer Stewart Copeland were advanced musicians for the genre of music they resided in. There are several arguments they improved on each successive album, and while that may be succinct from a musicianship standpoint, when listening to their follow up, “Reggatta De Blanc,” it is unequivocally not the case in terms of songwriting ability. Perhaps ironically, Sting indicated in an interview that the band felt little pressure to follow up their debut, and spent only two weeks in the studio recording “Regatta De Blanc,” foreshadowing a lack of focus and song writing laziness. While there are positive aspects to the record, including a noticeable improvement in their instrumental playing, “Reggatta de Blanc” feels mostly like a disjointed jam session, lacking the raw energy, streamlined hooks and focused song craft of their debut.
Although the majority of “Reggatta de Blanc” is comprised of songs that are overwhelmingly tight from a rhythmic standpoint, most are muddled by a more sedate atmosphere and unfocused structures. Disappointment is an inescapable emotion, as while most tracks are performed well musically, almost all are missing an essential component in one shape or form. “It’s Alright For You” showcases forceful drumming and strong verses, but falls apart in its repetitive, misguided chorus. “Deathwish” and “This Bed’s Too Big Without You” are competent at moments, but neither casts a lasting sense of memorability, collapsing under a weight of directionless meandering. “Bring on the Night” and “Does Everyone Stare” are attempts at pulling off an epic reggae atmosphere, yet both are more droning and annoying than substantial. Copeland makes a valiant attempt at saving album closer “No Time This Time,” but above average drumming cannot provide salvation from one of Sting’s worst vocal performances. The greatest travesties are found on “Contact,” an unredeemable effort that is the definition of filler, and the atrociously corny “On Any Other Day,” a monstrosity that wastes a well generated groove by brandishing lyrics that wouldn’t be found on the most self deprecating, stereotypical country album. Complete with lyrics about his dog, wife, house, and the homosexuality of his son, “On Any Other Day” is almost certainly a number Copeland wishes he hadn’t written, let alone lent vocals on.
Although a large slice of the record is awash in mediocrity, there are moments of redemption when Sting decides to subside on pretentiousness and embraces the rock sensibilities that would prove to be the band’s greatest strength. When The Police decide to lay an effective hook to their jumpy, syncopated beats, like on opener “Message In a Bottle,” the result is nearly stunning. “Message In a Bottle” is somewhat of a cruel tease, as the frantic bass, massive hook, and one of the more melodic riffs Summers would ever lay down encapsulate arguably the band’s greatest song, and positively destroys the rest of the album. “Walking on the Moon” is another effective entry, showcasing a titanic, sprawling bass line from Sting that permeates the type of spacey atmosphere Jared Leto could only achieve in his tortured, overly emotional dreams. While “Walking on the Moon” would prove to be a Police landmark, the quasi-instrumental, Grammy winning Title Track is another positive; a sweeping, rhythmic monster that overcomes ill-advised vocal chanting with layered, chimey guitars, groove laden bass, and frantic, unleashed drumming.
At this point, the Police had yet to fully capture and consistently meld strong songwriting with their advanced musical abilities. The final verdict is “Reggatta De Blanc” is the most skip worthy Police album, a quintessential case to relish the singles and forget the rest, the only time in their history when mandatory. Although the overtly positive moments of “Reggatta De Blanc” are few, the times when focus supplants pretension prove The Police had enough chops to carry out a substantial, landmark career. The Police may have stumbled slightly at the altar of learning, but time would prove their best years were still ahead.
Message in a Bottle
Reggatta De Blanc
Walking on the Moon