The Police (1984)

I acknowledge that it does reek of elitism to insult and dismiss the increasingly plastic, inane market-driven pop tunes of the late 70s and 80s when some of them are guilty pleasures, possibly even a few of them great. Because this project aims not just to catalog innovation, but to be diverse and wide-ranging in scope, acknowledging all facets of our fascinating musical development. That said, I’d like to discuss a seminal recording in the field of easy listening and middle of the road 80s synth pop that represents the apex of the genre. The Police’s Synchronicity.

At this late point in the Police’s evolution, Sting was growing increasingly egomaniacal, and tightening his grip on the band. He began to favor light jazz and synths as influences, triggering arguments with Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers, who wanted to go in a different direction. (Copeland turns in a great poppy track, and Summers contributes an unfairly despised “emotional exorcism” song scored to an Egyptian/Indian motif.) After instantly aborting sessions for a sixth LP, this became their swan song. Though everyone’s playing on autopilot, the songwriting is still outstanding, despite some grimacingly awful lyrics.

Musicians as diverse as Phil Collins, Pete Townshend, David Bowie, Elton John and the Rolling Stones already had, or eventually would, succumb to glossy soft rock, but the Police did it with the most class and creativity. Actually, the album starts off with one last galvanizing gasp of rock energy (the title tracks) and soon devolves into expertly written and performed shlock, such as “Wrapped Around Your Finger”. This mature, easygoing music appealed to rapidly aging rock audiences and was deemed “adult contemporary”. Perhaps it was seen as the wave of the future at one time, but in retrospect it gets nothing but scorn.

Some of these tracks are limp and brooding compared to the arch, spiky ska-punk the band had turned out just six years earlier, but it was an honest move from a bunch of guys with changing interests who weren’t so young anymore. An entire generation of likeminded rockers seemed to lose steam and vitality in the 80s while deferring to corny new production trends, and Synchronicity is the sound of this degradation at its best. Despite my backhanded compliments, it really is quite good (other than those embarrassing lyrics).

Key track: “King Of Pain”

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