This great Police album contains two songs that I can no longer bear to hear: the smash hits “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” and “ De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da.” The latter is Sting and company’s “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” and thus is major cringe. The former’s a decent quasi-reggae-pop tune, but overexposure and creepy, Lolita-esque undertones have ruined it for me. And “Man In A Suitcase” is the sort of inane reggae-rock that gives reggae-rock a bad name. So it goes.
The remaining eight tracks on their third album, however, represent some of the Police’s most challenging and danceable work in which they leave behind any traces of their punk-rock roots while maintaining their B-minus political-rocker commentary. One might say that Zenyatta Mondatta is the British-American trio’s Remain In Light, albeit without the extended lineup that helped to transform Talking Heads in that heady year of 1980. You can hear similar African musical elements in songs such as “Canary In A Coalmine,” a quicksilver, pseudo-Afro-rock burner that, by the way, segues well into Paul McCartney’s “Temporary Secretary.” Freewheeling fun and then some. The hypnotic groove, mesmerizing guitar arpeggios, and shocking monkey chants of “Voices Inside My Head” translate into King Sunny Adé-inflected house music. It’s dance-floor gold.
“Driven To Tears” ranks high in the Police’s canon thanks to Sting’s momentous bass line, Andy Summers’ aerated klang and Frippian guitar solo, and Stewart Copeland’s immaculate rimshots and bongo fills. The poised rave-up in the song’s last minute really lifts this song to an exalted level. The way “When The World Is Running Down, You Make The Best Of What’s Still Around” kicks into high gear while “Tears” is fading out is brilliant, a hip DJ-like move that was rare in new-wave-era rock circles. Summers’ flanged guitar punctuation sprays like a fountain of cool water over Sting and Copeland’s humid, fleet disco-funk rhythm.
The Summers composition “Behind My Camel” won a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance—which is strange, as it would’ve fit seamlessly into those uncommercial albums he did with King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp. Ominous and rhythmically stodgy, the track was boycotted by a petty Sting, so Andy dubbed in the bass parts.
Zenyatta Mondatta‘s last two tracks stand as anomalies in the Police’s catalog. Remove Sting’s vocals from the stark dub workout of “Shadows In The Rain” and you basically have an On-U Sound joint. Finale “The Other Way Of Stopping” is a skewed Copeland instrumental that’s full of the drummer’s usual nervy energy and exciting ebbing and flowing dynamics. It’s a weird way to end an album, but by this point in the Police’s wildly popular career, they could pretty much do whatever they wanted. So they did, and good on ’em. -Buckley Mayfield
Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.