Message In A Box

The Police

Disc 1

  1. Fallout
  2. Nothing Achieving
  3. Dead End Job
  4. So Lonely
  5. Roxanne
  6. Hole in My Life
  7. Peanuts
  8. Can’t Stand Losing You
  9. Truth Hits Everybody
  10. Born in the ’50s
  11. Be My Girl Sally
  12. Masoko Tanga
  13. Landlord Live
  14. Next to You Live
  15. Landlord
  16. Message in a Bottle
  17. Reggatta de Blanc
  18. It’s Alright for You
  19. Bring On the Night
  20. Deathwish

Disc 2

  1. Walking on the Moon
  2. On Any Other Day
  3. The Bed’s Too Big Without You
  4. Contact
  5. Does Everyone Stare
  6. No Time This Time
  7. Visions Of The Night
  8. The Bed’s Too Big Without You Mono
  9. Truth Hits Everybody Live
  10. Friends
  11. Don’t Stand So Close to Me
  12. Driven to Tears
  13. When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What’s Still Around
  14. Canary in a Coalmine
  15. Voices inside My Head
  16. Bombs Away
  17. De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da
  18. Behind My Camel
  19. Man in a Suitcase
  20. Shadows in the Rain
  21. The Other Way of Stopping

Disc 3

  1. A Sermon
  2. Driven to Tears Live
  3. Shambelle
  4. Spirits in the Material World
  5. Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic
  6. Invisible Sun
  7. Hungry for You / J’aurais toujours faim de toi
  8. Demolition Man
  9. Too Much Information
  10. Rehumanize Yourself
  11. One World (Not Three)
  12. Omegaman
  13. Secret Journey
  14. Darkness
  15. Flexible Strategies
  16. Low Life
  17. How Stupid Mr Bates
  18. A Kind of Loving

Disc 4

  1. Synchronicity I
  2. Walking in Your Footsteps
  3. O My God
  4. Mother
  5. Miss Gradenko
  6. Synchronicity II
  7. Every Breath You Take
  8. King of Pain
  9. Wrapped Around Your Finger
  10. Tea in the Sahara
  11. Murder by Numbers
  12. Man in a Suitcase Live
  13. I Burn for You
  14. Once upon a Daydream
  15. Tea in the Sahara Live
  16. Don’t Stand So Close to Me ’86

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 Don’t Stand So Close to Me with which they took their final curtain in 1986, including all the B-sides which didn’t 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 it’s all here, every note.”

Although that all fits on just four CDs, 78 tracks in all, it’s a breadth of music that almost forces you to take it in small doses. For the most part it’s 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 was—each 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).

I’ve found that most of these tracks improve and yield every-increasing satisfaction upon repeat playing, especially as I’ve experienced them on my Sony headphones or through my yummy Audvis speakers…there’s 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 I’ve 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 Police’s music that thrills me most is the effect of Sting’s voice multitracked to form chords or even near-unison dissonances…if he still did that in his solo career I’d probably have some of those latter CDs, but he seems to have abandoned the style in favor of disposable melodic bases (don’t get me wrong, I very much love melodic music above most other forms, but what I’m 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) Sting’s voice is the violins we should have been hearing in orchestral music by now.

Shit, that’s 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 scene’s 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 it’s 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 there’s 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 set’s closing track, the 1986 reworking of “Don’t 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 isn’t 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 you’re not sure what I’m referring to, after all this, listen to something as extreme as the 1986 “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” recording and imagine violins instead of Sting’s voice.

The quality of the lyrics certainly runs a wide gamut over the course of The Police’s existence; personally I can be as mesmerized by intentionally enigmatic/obscure stuff like “Miss Gradenko” (which is melodically/harmonically lovely) as by Sting’s “King of Pain” (with its superb visuals intercut cinematically with the near-mantra “that’s 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”).

So, to return at last to the $64,000, The Hounds of Love/The Dreaming, Savage/1984 question—which is better, Synchronicity or Ghost In The Machine? In that same vein, I’ve concluded that it’s a tie: each is spectacularly strong, each has a weak spot or two, but each is also sufficiently different in its strengths to make it unique. Synchronicity is more finely crafted, but Ghost In The Machine is more pure (or perhaps I mean “more direct,” the music coming more directly from its origins and therefore less refined and aimed than the latter). Both are superior to the preceding albums by virtue of being more definite and having sufficient budget to allow for the necessary studio time to achieve the delivered results.