Sunday, April 5, 2015

Classic Album Review: The Police - Reggatta de Blanc (1979)

I once owned a copy of each of the first six singles released by The Police; each one was a seven-inch blue vinyl pressing, complete with the original picture sleeve. Purchased as a set sometime in the (UK) summer of 1980, the conveniently packaged limited edition “six pack” has since, somehow, somewhere, contrived to go awol. On a journey involving more than a decade’s worth of impromptu house guests, several broken relationships, and more grotty bedsits than I care to recall, the entire set was evidently deemed surplus to requirements at one stage or another. Inadvertently abandoned by yours truly, or perhaps sleekitly acquired by a casual acquaintance, I wonder whether someone equally as passionate about the band’s early work has been the beneficiary of a “lucky find” somewhere along the way?

Whatever, I’m no longer the proud owner of that precious vinyl set, and it was only recently I felt compelled to splash out on some sort of token replacement in the form of this album, 1979’s Reggatta de Blanc.

This was the second full-length offering from The Police, and it immediately preceded the release of the six pack – which contained the three singles on here (‘Message In A Bottle’, ‘Walking On The Moon’, ‘The Bed’s Too Big’) and three from the band’s debut, Outlandos D’Amour (‘Roxanne’, ‘Can’t Stand Losing You’, and ‘So Lonely’).

Reggatta was a big improvement on the band’s raw debut outing, a far more polished effort, and it stands out as the landmark work ahead of the band’s more commercial Synchronicity (post-1983) period. This album offers a snapshot of the band on its way up, and the success of its first two chart-topping singles (‘Message’ and ‘Walking’) had helped to expose the band to a much wider audience.

The Six Pack
It also finds the three-piece Police somewhere close to a collective peak; the still hungry and ambitious Sting reserving his best vocal delivery for the album’s slower moments, while Andy Summers’ unique guitar craft and Stewart Copeland’s virtuoso drumming and percussion supplement perfectly the egocentric vocalist’s (still occasionally rudimentary) bass-playing.

The result is an album awash with offbeat rhythms, tight white reggae, and plenty of stirring and quirky lyrical twists, which more than make up for the odd corny moment and a somewhat uneven track-listing.

The dense and brooding ‘Bring On The Night’ rivals opener ‘Message In A Bottle’ as the best track on the album, and by extension, one of the very best things The Police ever did, while the skanky ‘Bed’s Too Big Without You’ is another one right out of the top drawer.
I’m not so keen on the more uptempo tracks, Sting’s vocal often being reduced to a fuzz, and almost paradoxically Summers’ guitar work somehow feels compromised and far less effective on the more rock-orientated numbers. Ditto the tracks credited to Stewart Copeland. Although, Copeland’s ability as a drummer – as one of the very best on the planet – easily offsets any shortcomings he may have had as a fledgling composer.
Mine was but a brief flirtation with The Police, but right down to my slightly scruffy soft-cover US-import CD copy of the album, the punky-reggae influences apparent on Reggatta de Blanc capture the essence of that short-lived affair exquisitely.

I was never overly impressed by Synchronicity, or indeed by the two albums that preceded it – Zenyatta Mondatta (1980) and Ghost In The Machine (1981) – and it’s difficult not to feel that The Police’s brief spell of global dominance also tended to rob the band of the mercurial charm that made it so unique and appealing in the first instance.

After the release of ‘Every Breath You Take’ had transported The Police into an entirely different stratosphere commercially, the writing was on the wall, and by the mid-Eighties an increasingly irritating Sting was in the process of launching a solo career that would take him into the netherworlds of folk and world music … and the band, mercifully, was no more. For the time being at least.

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