Saturday, November 24, 2012

Singles That Descend Into A Better Band: The Police’s Every Breath You Take - The Singles!

The Good: Generally good writing and sound, Overcomes some limitations of a trio
The Bad: One or two duds
The Basics: A solid collection of (mostly) recognizable and great singles, The Police Every Breath You Take - The Singles remains relevant today.

While working at my manufacturing job last year and being subjected to the same sixty classic rock tracks over and over again day in and day out (thank you, academia for rescuing me once again!), the high point of the day for me often came when The Police song "Roxanne" came over the radio. This was the exciting part of my day not because of the quality of the song, but rather because when the first licks of the song began, invariably, the biggest guy in the plant (who goes from spending ten hours pipe bending to a weight room?!) would start shrieking out the refrain moments before Sting. Ahhh . . . the little things we do to keep ourselves amused. So, when I stuck in Every Breath You Take - The Singles by The Police, the most notably absent aspect of the experience was hearing the brute shrieking out "Roxanne."

With twelve tracks, Every Breath You Take - The Singles is a collection of recognizable tracks from the early eighties that remind us why we care when The Police reunite. The tracks range from "Roxanne" and "Message In A Bottle" to "Every Breath You Take" and "Wrapped Around Your Finger," essentially encapsulating the career of the Police from the late 1970s to the early 1980s. This is the essence of pop-rock of the time.

For those unfamiliar with the music of the Police, Sting - solo artist since leaving the group in the early 80s - was the writer and lead singer of a trio which included him, Andy Summers and Steward Copeland. All of the songs on "Every Breath You Take" were written by Sting and they are mostly about relationships, specifically wanting. "Can't Stand Losing You," "Message In A Bottle," "Every Breath You Take," and "Wrapped Around Your Finger" all contain notes of longing for relationships, for love to work. On "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" the group explores the joy of a relationship that works and on the penultimate single, "King of Pain" explores being trapped in a relationship that is not working.

The only track I did not know at the beginning was the generic pop single "Invisible Sun," which appears to be a socialist anthem for not wasting one's life away working. I like the lyrics of the song, but the melody is easily forgettable and the message is not as clear as it ought to be. I think it makes a far better poem than it does a song, at least with the music that accompanies it.

And more than anything else, the writing of Sting keeps the Police engaging even after over twenty-five years. The songs are all largely poetic, save the vastly chaotic "De Do Do Do De Da Da Da," which includes the title as a fairly witless refrain after such dark lines as "And when their eloquence escapes me / Their logic ties me up and rapes me . . ." It's especially disturbing given the upbeat music that accompanies it.

But the Police succeed, in part, because people do not listen too closely to their lyrics. What so many people assume is a love song, "Every Breath You Take," is actually a pretty terrifying stalker song. This is a man hunting his prey! Every time I hear it at a wedding (or, with more contemporary crowds Green Day's "Time of Your Life (Good Riddance)" - it's the parenthetical people always seem to miss!) I just shudder.

The thing about listening to Every Breath You Take - The Singles is that it becomes clear that The Police were getting better and better right before they disbanded. Their initial success of "Roxanne" and "Message In A Bottle" led to a somewhat juvenile period where their sound became upbeat and sometimes silly with such tracks as "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da" and "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic." The last three tracks, "Every Breath You Take," "King of Pain," and "Wrapped Around Your Finger" enter a more sophisticated, smoky, more mature sound in terms of music, strength of vocals, and quality of lyrics.

Then the album ends. It's enough to make one wish that Sting didn't go solo afterward, but the truth is his creative talents seem to have moved The Police, so his later works (like the one which includes "Desert Rose") seem to follow the direction he was going.

If you are looking for a strong group sound that uses guitar, drums and keyboard to create a memorable collection of singles, Every Breath You Take - The Singles is certainly for you. It's a treat for those looking for something retro or relief from the drecht that is on the radio today.

The best track is "King of Pain," the worst is "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da."

For other classic rock artists, please visit my reviews of:
Words & Music - John Mellencamp
Alladin Sane - David Bowie
Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough) - Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers


For other album reviews, be sure to check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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