Review Summary: The Police go out in style.
The Police Discography
Part 5: The Watershed
As the beatnik rock poet Neil Young once said, “It’s better to burn out than fade away.” Although Neil left us with some memorable moments, it’s unequivocally ironic he failed to heed his own advice, contributing to the interesting corollary between longevity and quality of art in rock history. For the majority of the upper echelon of rock, musical legacies have little to do with advancing quality of material. Unlike the aging process of a fine wine or steak, the converse is usually true with elite rock acts; as artists age, their chops diminish, their focus dwindles, and if you’re Aerosmith, legacies often collapse into an epic avalanche of self parody. For bands that held a degree of transcendent importance, it is an un-paralleled rarity where the final work of a legend is their finest. That is, unless, we are talking about The Police, who were smart enough to resign at the pinnacle of their career.
The Police wrote their epitaph on the heels of six exceedingly productive years. Brandishing a leashed rawness and innocence at their inception, over the course of five albums the trio evolved from a quasi punk/reggae lounge act to monolithic, genre blending megastars. The foundation to their rise, and the quintessential essence that defined the group’s legitimacy was unmatched confidence colliding with advanced musicianship for the pop rock genre. The fact that Sting, Andy Summers, and Stewart Copeland could play circles around most of their brethren certainly added a facet of ease to their quest for hallowed remembrance, yet what ultimately canonized them was a sometimes eluding, hard fought songwriting craft, honed to perfection in their later years. The Police modified their style many times at the altar of musical learning, and the experimentation, lessons, and successes wrought from their first four albums culminated in a resulting apex of their abilities on their final act, 1983’s watershed “Synchronicity.”
“Synchronicity” is fittingly about finalization. Perhaps an eerie resemblance of foreshadowing, the record is primarily awash in dark, morose moods, and the theme running throughout paints a picture of interpersonal relationships colliding in a final desperate gasp before collapsing in a heap of exhaustion. With Sting’s growing megalomania, it is highly probable the band knew this was Act 3, and the foreboding yet brilliantly crafted ambiance plastered across the record is as fitting as music can be in respect to its performers’ natural lives. On differing moments of “Synchronicity” Sting seems to be at odds, lamenting he cannot wait to break freedom impeding shackles (Wrapped Around Your Finger), yet willing to embrace enormous lengths to be welcomed back to an unhealthy, controlling dynamic (Every Breath You Take). While he cannot make up his mind at times, Sting has no issues being a soothsayer for impending, inevitable disaster (Tea in the Sahara, Murder By Numbers), and uses brilliantly constructed metaphors to describe exactly how he got there (King of Pain). Owing to his aspirations as a leftist political spokesman, Sting cannot resist climbing his altar here and there (Walking In Your Footsteps, title track series), but the controlling atmosphere of the record from a thematic standpoint is inevitable change, at times embraced, at times scorned by fear.
Of course, “Synchronicity” cannot be held to legendary status by lyrical themes alone. Sonically, “Synchronicity” is the culmination of the Police’s genre experimentations, primarily relying on brilliantly constructed layers of melodic darkness, occasionally transgressing into more aggressive sensibilities. The most striking example of the Police unleashing is found on the title track series, with the second offering, (Synchronicity II), landing as their ultimate achievement from an up-tempo, energetic standpoint. “Walking In Your Footsteps” is not entirely reliant on melody or energy, instead driven by one of Copeland’s greatest percussion forays, riding a tidal wave of African and Middle Eastern beats that prescribe a vexing, hypnotic atmosphere. “O My God” and “Tea in the Sahara” are the final transgressions of The Police putting on a spacey atmosphere, while the deliciously evil “Murder By Numbers” is the best of their series of off-putting, joke like lyrical delvings. Elsewhere, owing to the theme of finalizing the foundations wrought on previous records, Copeland and Summers are each allowed a song, resulting in the only unfortunate moments of the album. While Copeland’s “Miss Gradenko” is no worse than average, Summers’ “Mother” is astonishingly bad, an indefensible entry wretched enough to potentially derail the album’s classic status. Finally, the trio of impactful singles “Every Breath You Take,” “King of Pain,” and “Wrapped Around Your Finger” all rely on gorgeous, understated melodies, embracing the primary sonic overtones encompassing the record. Riding a heart tugging, impossibly strong layer of ambience, the trio encapsulates the lasting greatness of the record, and unquestionably aid in the final stamping on the Police’s legacy.
The final, lasting impression of “Synchronicity” is the Police going out in style. Strong enough to supplant Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” on the pop charts and featuring one of the greatest pop songs ever constructed (Every Breath You Take), “Synchronicity’s” greatest redemptive aspect is it simply left everyone wanting more. When studying the solo careers of each member, the early burn-out was probably fortunate, although records like this make the ideal difficult to conceive at times. The Police were always backed by an above average musical IQ, and it seems their intelligence was pursuant to the installment of their final legacy. As a collective group, the Police died young and left a good looking corpse, leaving the act of transgressing into rock parody with age to Sting’s solo career. The Police will forever carry a high degree of credibility, and the final act of establishing their legend is perfectly executed on “Synchronicity.”
Every Breath You Take
King of Pain
Wrapped Around Your Finger
Walking In Your Footsteps
O My God