Message In A Box
I had Ghost in the Machine for years, knew of Roxanne and the other big hits from the earlier albums, and came to enjoy Synchronicity so much (except for Mother) that I damn near forgot about Ghost In The Machine, shocking as that sounds. But the box set is definitely the way to go: all the albums, all the B-sides, and, well, everything. As the liner notes say right off, this is it. Everything the Police released, from their debut DIY single Fallout in 1977 to the revised version of Dont Stand So Close to Me with which they took their final curtain in 1986, including all the B-sides which didnt appear on albums plus other oddities and live versions that cropped up on New Wave compilations and the Brimstone and Treacle soundtrack album. The point is simply that its all here, every note.
Although that all fits on just four CDs, 78 tracks in all, its a breadth of music that almost forces you to take it in small doses. For the most part its punk-edged rock with pop overtones, but essentially labels are irrelevant for Police songs because they are Police songs they were a genre unto themselves thanks to the tight nucleus that the group waseach of the three members was inimitable and essential to that sound, and nobody else sounded like them because of that (and because of the unique & heady cocktail of musical synthesis that resulted from the mix).
Ive found that most of these tracks improve and yield every-increasing satisfaction upon repeat playing, especially as Ive experienced them on my Sony headphones or through my yummy Audvis speakers theres always a little more of something tucked in there to discover when the right day and opportunity comes along (and of course ALL of this is best played at some hefty volume).
As with many other musicians whose recordings Ive amassed for my own delight and the joy of sharing the experience with others, The Police inspire and electrify with their excellence and vigor. One of the aspects of The Polices music that thrills me most is the effect of Stings voice multitracked to form chords or even near-unison dissonances if he still did that in his solo career Id probably have some of those latter CDs, but he seems to have abandoned the style in favor of disposable melodic bases (dont get me wrong, I very much love melodic music above most other forms, but what Im referring to is the result of the jettisoning of the chording and accentuation indulged in earlier works).
OH!! An epiphany!
Seriously, I just figured it out while writing this commentary (7 December 2004, for the record Seasons Greetings, Dean Martin, 1992): Stings voice is the violins we should have been hearing in orchestral music by now.
Shit, thats IT! The multitrack harmonies Sting presents on certain Police recordings are the things orchestral works have skipped past. The compositions of the first few decades of the 20th century abandoned the tonal lushness of Impressionism, long before the milieu was exhausted, and more importantly before it was developed, and jumped off into idiosyncratic, intellectualized modern music that was more about making a point of logical relevance than about actual music. From there to the present day, the bulk of orchestral music seems to have been split into two camps: THAT stuff and inoffensive-but-slightly-quirky orchestral crowd-amusers.
In this process, harmonic delight got abandoned in a ditch somewhere, and, except for a brief flirtatious acknowledgement of it in the early 1960s folk scenes more eccentric moments, it seems to have remained an inactive, orphaned aspect of music until the early 1980s New Wave artists found a use for it. Some of them used it well, and many of them squandered the option in the studio without seriously considering its value. And in general its been dropped again for no good reason.
The alarmingly interesting results achieved by those who tapped it well are among the things I treasure most in my music collection: Alison Moyet has used it throughout her solo career, Eurythmics excelled in its use in their early albums (vocal horn sections?!LOVE IT!!) but to my chagrin have let drop their command of it in later work, Enya made lush use of it for awhile, and theres an assortment of others who have achieved sparkling musical moments by multitrack-chording (or, uh, dissonancing ?) in their recordings. But The Police were the finest at honing a knife-blade edge with that tool and applying it with glorious inconsistency and recklessness, and that is why I love their sound to this day. The choruses and outro of the box sets closing track, the 1986 reworking of Dont Stand So Close to Me, are certainly a pinnacle of this kind of magical concoction, exemplary in their superabundance of that effect.
Having said all that, however, I must concede that the 1986 version isnt so much a recording of the original song as it is a revisiting of the original recording and in that sense it fails badly, because the song itself is secondary to the revisiting .
My assessment may be facile and dismissable by more knowledgeable scholars than myself, but I think I may have identified a crucial gap in the orchestral/rock musical territory: why have I heard such luxurious harmonic indulgence only from the world of pop music when the orchestral world has been completely capable of delivering it in the past century? And if youre not sure what Im referring to, after all this, listen to something as extreme as the 1986 Dont Stand So Close To Me recording and imagine violins instead of Stings voice.
The quality of the lyrics certainly runs a wide gamut over the course of The Polices existence; personally I can be as mesmerized by intentionally enigmatic/obscure stuff like Miss Gradenko (which is melodically/harmonically lovely) as by Stings King of Pain (with its superb visuals intercut cinematically with the near-mantra thats my soul up there). And from a lyric standpoint even Mother is OK, as is Friends (which otherwise only works as a novelty piece with a wasted bit of magic thrown in for the chorus).
Comments © 2005 Mark Ellis Walker, except as noted, and no claim is made to the images and quoted lyrics.