(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Police

Stewart (Armstrong) Copeland (1952–) American-born English songwriter.

Sting (born Gordon Matthew Sumner) (1951–) English songwriter.

Andy Summers (born Andrew James Summers) (1942–) English songwriter.

The Police is one of the most critically and commercially successful groups to have emerged from the New Wave movement of the late 1970s. Their music contains elements of reggae, pop, rock, rhythm and blues, funk, and New Wave, resulting in a sound at once energetic and melodic, frenzied and lyrical.

The Police's first album, Outlandos d'Amour, contains what later became one of their most popular hit singles, "Roxanne." This song, which is about a man's love for a prostitute, typifies their early emphasis on love and the unique twists they bring to standard romance. Their subsequent albums, including Ghost in the Machine, show an increasing concern with political, social, and personal awareness. Synchronicity, their recent fifth album, continues in this direction, revealing an even darker, more bitter and pessimistic outlook toward contemporary society.

Ed Naha

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

One of the most exciting groups to slither out of the U.K. in the last five years, the Police are a harried hybrid of recent musical trends. They mesh hard rock with reggae rhythm, punk power, pop melody and Monty Python poetry to create a sound that is as distinctively exuberant as it is unnerving. At first listen, the Police sound like just a decent, melodic rock outfit. A few spins of [Outlandos D'Amour] later, one realizes the true dementia of the band….

[The songs are catchy] and crazy. "Be My Girl-Sally" is a pop poem dedicated to an inflatable rubber mate …, "Peanuts" is a frenzied swipe at stardom …, and "Roxanne" is an anguished, driving reggae which pledges tortured but undying love to a hooker….

All the siren songs on the Police's debut lp are similarly strange and never less than wonderful. Energetic, loud and melodic, The Police are as inventive as they are insane.

Ed Naha, "Police Police Me," in Feature (copyright © 1979 Feature Publishing Co., Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), No. 95, April, 1979, p. 73.

Jon Tiven

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

About 15 years ago albums by pop groups were just cheap exploitations of singles—you'd put one or two hits together with eight or 10 mediocre tracks and that was an album. Along came the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and it was a whole different ballgame; they'd put out an album with (in some cases) 15 songs of which 13 were of consistent good quality, and suddenly most groups felt they had to do the same. The Police, despite their talent, have reverted the back to the old formula where you only need one or two good songs per album, and from initial indications audiences are lapping it up.

Can't Stand Losing You is a pretty good rock 'n' reggae tune, and Roxanne is exceptionally good and deserving of hit singledom, but I must add that the rest of ["Outlandos d'Amour"] is strictly third rate…. [The Police are] a rock group with a reggae twist, occasionally attempting New Wave (Next To You] and vaguely political (Born in the Fifties almost makes it but doesn't quite) tunes. I suppose for a first album by a new group, having two hot tracks isn't bad, but considering the pre-album hype I was expecting maybe the next big thing, and I'm sitting here instead wondering if Roxanne is just a fluke.

Jon Tiven, in his review of "Outlandos d'Amour," in Audio (© 1979, CBS Publications, The Consumer Publishing Division of CBS Inc.), Vol. 63, June, 1979, p. 115.

Tom Carson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[If the Police display a certain] stylish art-rock elegance, their music still sounds unpolished and sometimes mean enough to let them pass for part-time members of the New Wave—even though it's a brand of New Wave sufficiently watered down to allow these guys to become today's AOR darlings. And yet their hybrid of influences has been fused into a streamlined, scrappy style, held together by the kind of knotty, economical hooks that make a song stick out on the radio. Musically, Outlandos d'Amour has a convincing unity and drive.

It's on the emotional level that it all seems somewhat hollow. Posing as a punk, Sting, as both singer and songwriter, can't resist turning everything into an art-rock game. He's so archly superior to the material that he fails to invest it with much feeling. Deft and rhythmically forceful though they are, the songs work only as posh collections of catch phrases ("Can't stand losing you" or "Truth hits everybody") thrown out at random to grab your attention: lyrical hooks to punch up musical hooks, with nothing behind them.

By trying to have it both ways—posturing as cool art-rockers and heavy, meaningful New Wavers at the same time—the Police merely adulterate the meanings of each. Their punk pose is no more than a manipulative come-on. For all its surface threat, there's no danger in this music, none of the spontaneity or passion that punk (and reggae) demands. Even when Sting says, "There's a hole in my life," he can't convince us it's keeping him up nights—we know it's just another conceit. And the larger the implied emotions, the tinnier he makes them sound. A gimmicky anthem manufactured out of whole cloth, "Born in the 50's" reaches for Who-style generational myth making …, but Sting can't make us see that there's anything special about this generation, because he knows there really isn't….

As entertainment, Outlandos d'Amour isn't monotonous—it's far too jumpy and brittle for that—but its mechanically minded emptiness masquerading as feeling makes you feel cheated, and more than a little empty yourself. You're worn out by all the supercilious, calculated pretense. The Police leave your nervous system all hyped up with no place to go.

Tom Carson, in his review of "Outlandos d'Amour," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1979; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 293, June 14, 1979, p. 96.

Mark Kidel

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The Police], for all their success on both sides of the Atlantic, seem a little pallid. Reggatta de Blanc … has its good moments, but it is too clearly programmed for success, lacking in spontaneity, with its nods to New Wave Energy, reggae rhythm and Dub echo. Sting has a distinctive voice, the lyrics are fashionable 'concerned' and some of it is very danceable, but the album misses the bite that would make its chart success seem more than a very clever calculation. (pp. 867-68)

Mark Kidel, "Highstreet Madness," in New Statesman (© 1979 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 98, No. 2541, November 30, 1979, pp. 867-68.∗

John Milward

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Call the Police exploitative if you must, but Reggatta de Blanc's title at least shows that they can be funny as well—chilly players who are nevertheless capable of a warm, pleasurable outburst like "Roxanne." It's the old story—black music played by white faces for maximum profit—but there's a twist. Lots of Jamaicans live in Britain (another old story, colonialism), so the reggae these new-wavish enforcers have grafted onto their pop is nothing more than the exploitation of a natural resource. (p. 92)

The Police are more razor cut than dreadlocks, a cool mixture of influences—icily modern (and generally thin) lyrics, a winning sense of hard-rock dynamics …, and Sting's voice, which floats in the arrangements like bubbles in Perrier. Their detached approach to pop riffers like "Can't Stand Losing You" and "So Lonely" (from the generally rockier Outlandos d'Amour) and "Message in a Bottle" (from the overtly reggaeish new album) also mixes stylistic commitments: though driven by a new-wavish drums-guitar propulsion, the sound is rendered commercially clean by Sting's simple bass lines and arch, syncopated voice. The result is both too frenetic for mainstream rock and too clean for hard-core new wave. By being nothing to nobody, the Police can be everything to everybody.

The lyrics don't blow their cover. Instead of burnin' and lootin', their reggae complains that "The Bed's Too Big Without You," but that's only proper. And while the one-dimensional sexual attitudes that inform the lyrics can be hard to swallow, a Rastafarian it's-a-man's-world rap would hardly be an improvement. "Roxanne," which Peter Tosh reportedly adores, has the singer out to make a prostitute his girlfriend: "You don't have to put on the red light," Sting gulps and stutters, though his blase attitude toward her profession leads one to believe that, like a fickle john, he'd likely turn sour if it stopped burning incandescent for him. But that's beside the point—"Roxanne" is a song about the loose-lipped laugh that starts the tune, the choppy guitar that frames the verse, and the upbeat chorus that creates the climax. (p. 95)

John Milward, "The Police: Razor Cut Dreadlocks" (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice and the author; copyright © News Group Publications, Inc., 1979), in The Village Voice, Vol. XXIV, No. 50, December 10, 1979, pp. 92, 95.

Jon Tiven

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Police's first album ["Outlandos d'Amour"] showed an exciting rock band with reggae inclinations that could kill with two songs but barely get off the ground with the remainder. On their second album ["Reggatta de Blanc"] they've forsaken most of their rock base and turned strictly into a reggae band with white faces, and unfortunately the move doesn't work to their advantage. The lack of consistency becomes even more apparent, and while Sting's vocal comparisons to Bob Marley made for entertainment when he sang a tune like Can't Stand Losing You, an entire LP of a white Marley singing reggae isn't nearly as exciting. The single, Message in a Bottle, is truly exceptional … but the rest of the album just doesn't hold water, if you pardon the pun.

Jon Tiven, in his review of "Regatta de Blanc," in Audio (© 1980, CBS Publications, The Consumer Publishing Division of CBS Inc.), Vol. 64, No. 3, March, 1980, p. 83.

Jerry Milbauer

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

When the Police first hit with "Roxanne," they were welcomed and hated by opposite camps for the same reason: making new wave accessible to Top 40 audiences. Their use of reggae elements provoked a similarly split reaction; did they co-opt and dilute the form, or were they introducing it to new listeners who might then become interested in real Jamaican riddim? (p. 42)

What everyone missed in the ensuing turmoil—and what the third Police album, Zenyatta Mondatta, continues to illustrate—is that this is a band of three extremely inventive, smooth and technically gifted musicians whose individual abilities add up to a seamless, symbiotic whole. New wave or reggae they're not, nor do they...

(The entire section is 431 words.)

Steve Simels

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Sooner or later it happens to every band, however talented or well intentioned: caught with an album due and little or nothing to say. This time it's happened to the Police. Apparently they've been so busy touring out-of-the-way markets (such as India) and coming to grips with the pressures of their sudden worldwide success that their songwriting has suffered. [Zenyatta Mondatta] is padded, thinly produced, and rushed sounding….

Only the British and American singles from this album (Don't Stand So Close and De Do Do Do, respectively) have the sensuous instrumental interplay, melodic grace, and lyrical smarts we have come to expect from the Police. The rest is merely sound effects and aimless riffing. Granted, there are precious few groups, New Wave or otherwise, that can tread water this skillfully, but from these guys one wants something a little more … er, arresting.

Steve Simels, in his review of "Zenyatta Mondatta." in Stereo Review (copyright © 1981 by Ziff-Davis Publishing Company), Vol. 46, No. 2, February, 1981, p. 96.

Debra Rae Cohen

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Ghost in the Machine feels unsettlingly crowded.

Which is as it should be, since that's what the album is about: overload, media explosion, the global village, the behavioral sink. The Police's platform, a spinoff from Marshall McLuhan, Alvin Toffler, et al., is hardly news …, yet it's strongly stated, consistent and compelling. The thrashing, denatured funk of "Too Much Information," the whirlpool riff that punctuates "Omegaman" and the oppressive, hymnlike aspects of "Invisible Sun" all bespeak claustrophobia and frustration, and the lyrics bear them out. The Police skillfully manipulate musical details to underscore their points. Sting brays "information" as if to demonstrate how...

(The entire section is 408 words.)

Richard Friedman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Police is a group, like Steely Dan, whose music makes you change speeds when one of their songs comes on your car radio. Clean, direct choruses that keep your ears blinking to attention, emotional hooks every 30 seconds, and lushly produced melodies make both groups irresistible. With the release of Ghost In The Machine, their fourth album, the Police prove they're able to merge diverse pop idioms into complex music that will carry a mass audience where the group wants to take them….

Sting, Summers, and Copeland use any means at their disposal to create vital contemporary music….

Rehumanize Yourself, [for example], throws everything in—sirens, synthesizer tremolos, racing guitars—to advise wayward youths and the authorities alike: "Policeman put on his uniform / He'd like to have a gun just to keep him warm / Cause violence here is a social norm / You got to humanize yourself." With songs like this and the mystic cymbal/tape magic reggae-like One World, the Police add an evangelical fervor to their exploitation of electronics, hoping to wrench the ghost out of the machine.

Richard Friedman, in his review of "Ghost in the Machine," in down beat (copyright 1982; reprinted with permission of down beat). Vol. 49, No. 3, March, 1982, p. 31 [the excerpt from the lyrics by The Police used here was taken from "Rehumanize Yourself" (used by permission of Reggatta Music/Illegal Songs, Inc.)].

Stephen Holden

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Synchronicity is a work of dazzling surfaces and glacial shadows. Sunny pop melodies echo with ominous sound effects. Pithy verses deal with doomsday. A battery of rhythms—pop, reggae and African—lead a safari into a physical and spiritual desert, to "Tea in the Sahara." Synchronicity, the Police's fifth and finest album, is about things ending—the world in peril, the failure of personal relationships and marriage, the death of God. (p. 54)

Though the Police started out as straightforward pop-reggae enthusiasts, they have by now so thoroughly assimilated the latter that all that remains are different varieties of reggae-style syncopation. The Police and coproducer Hugh Padgham...

(The entire section is 819 words.)