The Evolution of The Police
The Police’s Message in a Box: The Complete Recordings has been a go-to music collection to turn to when I’m out and about this year. Listening to the entire Police discography leads me to finds particular trends and changes to their music over time. Some of the insights I’ve found include:
- A shift from personal to universal narratives: The first two Police albums are most representative for the former. Songs address personal issues and conflicts, such as relationships and their fallout, from a first person perspective (See “So Lonely” or “The Bed’s Too Big Without You”.) By Synchronicity, however, we have many songs dealing with universal breakdown, though these too can also be seen though a first person perspective. “Synchronicity II” is great example of this, as we hear of the different tensions in a mans life, and in the world (his work, his home), and the mysterious being in a dark Scottish lake. Other songs such as “One World (Not Three)” tackle a universal theme with a stronger sermonizing edge, though thankfully The Police never fully lost their brash nature to devolve into Kumbayahs. While The Police’s perspective widened a bit, Sting still wrote killer first person POV songs throughout the band’s career (“Wrapper Around Your Finger” is lit.)
- As you progress through the discography, you find hints here and there of Sting’s eventual depoliticization and rise in spirituality. “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” is not just a lovey-dovey pop song, but also refers to the healing power of chants. Sting’s lyric that “De do do do, de da da da/ They’re meaningless and all that’s true” refer to not just being speechless in love, overcome with emotion, but also the power of meaningless words to focus one’s mind. “Don’t Stand So Close To Me ’86” is the clearest example of what Sting’s career would become: adult alternative sometimes eerily close to easy listening. The ’86 version is mesmerizing in its own way, with wonderful harmonizing throughout, but takes a slower tempo reminiscent of Sting’s ease into a calmer mode of songwriting.
- If there is at least one theme present throughout The Police’s discography, it would be alienation. Such alienation takes form both through personal narratives (“So Lonely”, “Driven To Tears”), and the general malaise of an unjust world (“Rehumanize Yourself”, “Spirits in the Material World”). This is part of what makes The Police so interesting. There were a massive success, but they didn’t actually make a lot of happy music. And there wasn’t that much to begin with: The Police only had five albums, all solid, plus some odds and ends. For an all-time great rock band, that’s unusually low. But it makes for some great listening.