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Outlandos D’Amour (The Police, 1978) 13 May 2007

Posted by Basilios in The Police.
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As soon as I mention Police everyone nods and says “Ah, the white guys playing reggae“. Everyone that still recognizes them, of course. Or rather, everyone that recognizes them and only knows a handful of songs – more knowledgeable people will talk about their infusion of reggae themes into straight rock and mention The Clash as a comparison. Hardcore fans will rave on and on and on about how they were God’s gift to humankind, but I tend not to listen to hardcore fans very much, sorry!

As for me, I was in the second category; I knew they existed, I could hum Roxanne and Walking On The Moon, and that was it. Then I happened to hear a couple more songs of theirs on the radio I wasn’t familiar with and thought they were not bad at all, once I got to listen something not too overplayed. This made me decide to buy this, their first album, which I’m now going to review.

Just like many other successful groups, the members of The Police had lots of previous experience: bassist and singer Sting with a bunch of jazz bands in Northern England, including local favourites Last Exit, guitarist Andy Summers with jazz fusion outfit Soft Machine (said to be a legend for those in the know) and plenty of session work with many relevant artists, and drummer Stewart Copeland with interesting band Curved Air, of which I have a few CDs that I plan to eventually review. It’s an interesting thing that, despite Police being primarily a rock and pop group, the three members have so much experience is jazz, fusion and, in the case of Copeland, the funny mix of rock and classic music with generous helpings of jazzy and proggy ideas that Curved Air played.

Let’s talk about their style: this is mostly rock and roll, and some songs have reggae influences, or at least it sounds so to my uneducated ears. They’re all catchy and fun to listen to, and the lyrics are interesting as well. The production is sharp enough without being brash, and without emphasising an instrument above the others. Sting’s voice is well in evidence without being over everything.

The quality of the songs is very even, and more or less they’re all good. However, there is a certain slump on the second half of the album. I suppose there’s only so many times you can successfully pull off the same formula (fast, bouncy pop songs with the occasional reggae rhythm thrown in) before sounding samey.

Things start off fast and rockin’ with Next To You, a catchy love song that sounds like they wanted to remake good old-school rock’n’roll with a slight twist – like so many of the songs here. Then we have So Lonely, where the reggae influences first show up. Guess what? It’s a catchy love song that sounds like a pleasant experiment in writing classic rock’n’roll with a slight twist – yes, again, only this time they infuse the song with this reggae rhythm.

Then we get to the more interesting song here: Roxanne, definitely the most popular song here, and arguably the most original. Original within the limitations of its genre, of course: it’s yet another catchy love song with a twist – but this time the reggae infusion is stronger, and the lyrics are quite more gripping: the tone of supplication in Sting’s voice is striking as he pleads Roxanne not to wear the red dress tonight and go prostitute herself.

The infusion of reggae is even stronger in the following song, Hole In My Life. Guess what? Another catchy song about love – this time about not being in love, and therefore having the above mentioned hole in their life. Right after that we have Peanuts and here we go back to the style of the opening Next To You, which makes it faster and more rocking than Hole In My Life, and makes a nice contrast with it. Interestingly, it’s the only song where Stewart Copeland has a writing credit, and the first of two that were not written by Sting alone (the other being the more throwaway-ish Be My Girl). It has some nice musical quirks; maybe Stewart got the inspiration from his Curved Air tenure?

Can’t Stand Losing You is the next song, and in a vinyl LP it would have been the first song of the second side. It’s slower, and a bit similar to So Lonely. Unsurprisingly by now, it’s a love song with reggae infusions. But then we have Truth Hits Everybody and this one sounds like Next To You, being a catchy, fast rock’n’roll number with no reggae thrown in at all. Born In The 50s is, to my uneducated ears, more of the same, but slightly slower, so add another straight rock’n’roll song. I was going to say that it was not a love song, but as I’m writing I catch a whiff of love lyrics! Again!

Following we find the above mentioned Be My Girl. It’s the only song where Andy Summers gets a writing credit. Another catchy, fun rock’n’roll song (no reggae here!) with a twist, this being in this case a quirky poem in the middle of song about the girl in question – and here we find the girl in question is a blowup doll! All in all, it’s a bit of a throwaway piece, but it’s not only fun, it’s funny.

The reggae infusions come back with a vengeance in the last song of the album, Masoko Tanga. Here Sting assumes a bit of the vocal posture and cadence of a reggae singer, and it doesn’t sound half bad! I can’t understand for the life of me what he’s singing about, but I’ll hazard a guess – thermodynamics?

On this album the songs I like best are pretty much the expected ones, Roxanne, So Lonely, and Peanuts. Masoko Tanga, the song with the strongest reggae flavour, is another one I like. Hole In My Life is not bad either, and I also appreciate Born in the 50s and Be My Girl, but I have to say that these leave me just a bit underwhelmed. Mind you, that’s compared with the rest of the album; taken by themselves they’re all good.

All in all this album is very good, a worthy purchase and an entertaining listen, and what criticisms I can write are only minor. Because there is something to say against it: you could gather the songs here in groups of twos and threes and for each group say, “It feels like they rewrote the same song all over again here”. I might be picky, but there, that’s what I feel. I have to say that the thematics of the lyrics are samey: love, love, love. And love it’s a wonderful thing, the best there is after cough drops, but let’s have something different sometimes, and I’ll like it even more. All of these, as I said, are only minor complaints; I’m happy with this album and my evaluation is quit positive.

Final Grade: 27/30

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Comments»

1. BalladMusician - 22 June 2007

I like reggae but I spending my time with ballad musicians.


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