Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Police

  • Outlandos d'Amour [A&M, 1978] B+
  • Regatta de Blanc [A&M, 1979] B-
  • Zenyatta Mondatta [A&M, 1980] B
  • Ghost in the Machine [A&M, 1981] B+
  • Synchronicity [A&M, 1983] B+
  • Every Breath You Take: The Singles [A&M, 1986] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Outlandos d'Amour [A&M, 1978]
Tuneful, straight-ahead rock and roll is my favorite form of mindlessness, and almost all of these songs--riffs-with-lyrics, really--make the cretin in me hop. But only "Can't Stand Losing You" makes him jump up and down. And the "satiric" soliloquy to an inflatable bedmate makes him push reject. B+

Regatta de Blanc [A&M, 1979]
The idea is to fuse Sting's ringing rock voice and the trio's aggressive, hard-edged rock attack with a less eccentric version of reggae's groove and a saner version of reggae's mix. To me the result sounds half-assed. And though I suppose I might find the "synthesis" innovative if I heard as much reggae as they do in England, it's more likely I'd find it infuriating. B-

Zenyatta Mondatta [A&M, 1980]
Not to be confused with Regatta de Blanc, I don't think, this is where the latest vanguard of musicianly postminimalist abandons all pretense of pop (or reggae) mindlessness. Stewart Copeland's rhythms skank plenty while looting the whole wide world. Andy Summers's guitar harmonies are blatantly off-color, his melodic effects blatantly exotic. And Sting's words are about stuff--itchy general, teacher not petting with teacher's pet, plus, ahem, the perils of stardom. Summing it all up is their first true hit and only true masterpiece: "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da." B

Ghost in the Machine [A&M, 1981]
It's pointless to deny that they make the chops work for the common good--both their trickiness and their simplicity provide consistent pleasure here. But with drummer, manager, and booking agent all scions of a CIA honcho, I have my doubts about their standing as a progressive force. Whether you're following in the old man's footsteps, offing the motherfucker, or striving for a livable compromise, roots like that leave you twisted, if only to the tune of a middlebrow cliché like Sting's "There is no political solution." In the kindest construction, say their politics are as astute, liberal, and well-meaning as those of Pete "Won't Get Fooled Again" Townshend, who also needs reminding that we're not just spirits in the material world--we're also matter in the material world, which is why things get sticky. B+

Synchronicity [A&M, 1983]
I prefer my musical watersheds juicier than this latest installment in their snazzy pop saga, and my rock middlebrows zanier, or at least nicer. If only the single of the summer was a little more ambiguous, so we could hear it as a poem of mistrust to the Pope or the Secretary of State; instead, Sting wears his sexual resentment on his chord changes like a closet "American Woman" fan, reserving the ambiguity for his Jungian conundrums, which I'm sure deserve no better. Best lyrics: Stew's "Miss Gradenko" and Andy's "Mother." Juiciest chord changes: the single of the summer. B+

Every Breath You Take: The Singles [A&M, 1986]
Though they're thought of as slick, no putative pop band of this era has aired more pretensions. The new-agish textural excursions (not the chords and structures that flesh out their tunes) are excised here, but Sting is scarcely less pompous when servicing the marketplace than when expressing himself in the privacy of his own throwaways. From the love object with the dress of red to the dreams of imaginary energy sources, from sexist condescension to Sufi twaddle he's one step up the evolutionary ladder from Billy Joel. He's got loads of musical gifts. He's even got verbal gifts. But he's tried to convert the sharpest couplet he'll ever write--"De do do do, de da da da/They're meaningless and all that's true"--into a philosophy of life. He's just lucky it was possible musically. A-