Sunday, February 21, 2016

Album Reviews # 56 The Police - Outlandos D'Amour

Wherein I spend a Sunday morning listening to the first two Police records and come to the conclusion that the second is much better than the first, which unfortunately is the one I've chosen to write about here. Still, here's the fruit of my labour.

I was not a hip kid. I don't have photographic evidence available and would not post it here even if I could, which you can be thankful for. While other kids at my secondary school were onto what was happening in terms of the fertile music scene of the late seventies it took a while for me to catch onto what was going on and construct an identity and record collection and taste of my own. This really didn't happen until I was sixteen or so and the eighties kicked in.

Perhaps in this respect it was appropriate that The Police's first two albums were among the first that I bought for myself. They were never a very hip proposition themselves. I do strangely remember a playground conversation with a kid called Michael Rachlin, (whatever happened to?), about them where he suggested that I listen to Linton Kwesi Johnson, quite clearly the real deal rather than The Police's obviously cynical approximation of the reggae sound and feel. Still I knew no better and was listening to them on repeat on my parent's primitive Fidelity record player at the time.

I'm fairly sure I bought second record Regatta De Blanc, first and then moved back to this. Regatta De Blanc was the one which hit the payload for them, started their run of pretty much unbroken Top Five singles and launched them on the path to becoming millionaires. Outlandos D'amour had been largely neglected if not critically derided at the time but The Police and their record company persevered with it after an initially unsuccessful marketing campaign on its original release to push Roxanne and Can't Stand Losing You into the singles chart in 1979, and renew interest in the debut album the year after they'd first been put on the market ahead of Regatta De Blanc, where they really began to ride their wave.

I'd have to say the one quality really lacking in the album listening to it now is charm. The Police were hungry, ambitious and sensibly aware that this was their big shot, in the case of Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland given their CVs'  probably their last one. Copeland had previously occupied the drumstool for Curved Air and Summers had played with The Animals, Kevin Coyne, Soft Machine and many more, all products of a quite bygone age. Sensibly, though deeply opportunistically, they hitched a ride on the coat-tails of punk and new wave. They were deeply despised by the elite, struggled for critical acceptance and soldiered on through a couple of years of gigs in fleapits. Their most obvious act of marketing genius were in choosing to bleach their hair to give them a striking unified visual impact and their creation of that odd reggae/rock fusion of their sound, an inspired move though not one that met the approval of purists like Michael Rachlin, and he was one of many.


It's all technically, highly proficient, a given really considering the experience and aptitude of its three players. Its themes are ever so slightly grubby, prostitution, loneliness, suicide, sex, the lyrics occasionally falling back on cliche given the full on rush of them attempting to cram all this proficiency into the straightjacket of three minute pop songs given the demands of the climate it was made in. All three were probably more comfortable within the more expansive confines of jazz or prog and this came to the surface to a greater degree in later albums where they, and Sting particularly were afforded the space to indulge their musical and intellectual fancies.

Still, I've found it a somewhat arid listening experience now, retreating to the much warmer sound and dynamics of Regatta De Blanc, as respite where I think the band really found their sound and identity, less eager to come across as something they clearly weren't and act as if they were five years or in Summers case several more, younger than they actually were.

That is generally a much better record I think for the reasons given because listening to it it feels that they are fully comfortable in their skins. As for Outlandos, it has one clearly outstanding song, Roxanne, which still sounds wonderful if you listen to it sparingly, a couple of other very good ones, probably the other singles Can't Stand Losing You and So Lonely and a fair bit of competent but disposable new wave poppy, tuneful thrash.

So perhaps I've chosen to review the wrong Police album. I still have some time for The Police. They're a very fine pop band who created a number of very skilfully crafted songs and after all they became the biggest band in the world for a short while and there are a number of worse groups that have occupied that slot. You wouldn't ever have guessed that would happen from listening to their debut though, all of the ingredients had yet to fall into place to make that a viable possibility.

All the songs are Sting's apart from Summer's offering Be My Girl, deep into the second side of the record which reveals the truth of Go-Betweens Robert Forster comment that the second last song on the album is always the worst. It's a paean to a blow up sex-doll, but it's no In Every Dream Home a Heartache and what seemed indescribably rude to me as a fourteen year old now just feels tawdry. I'm sorry, perhaps I'm being a prude, but it's not a good song.

So my overriding judgement on the record is that it's not fully-formed. The seeds are there but the band had to wait for album two to really hit their stride. Now that is a confident and impressive record, probably their best. Every song here has its place and contributes to the success of the overall project. Though Michael Rachlin still might not approve. But we'll leave that conversation in the playground, back in the deep and distant past.

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