Wednesday, March 22, 2017
The Police -- Outlandos d'Amour
If any of the bands I was in in my late teens and early 20's had put out a low-budget, but professionally recorded debut album, and it was half as good as Outlandos d'Amour, I could die in creative peace. The soon-to-be biggest band in the world (before handing the mantle to U2) comes out full of energy, and keeps that energy flowing through all ten tracks, even as the quality dips near the end. Almost immediately, this trio, The Police, show what each individual band member brings to the table. Drummer, Stewart Copeland, brings a high-hat massacring high energy. Versatile, experienced guitarist, Andy Summers, brings a trademarked watery-chorus sound and sense of innovation. The band's soon-to-be superstar bassist/vocalist, Sting, brings his unique vocal style, early on regarded as singularly high. At this point he hasn't yet developed his famous perfect pitch. His bass playing is remarkably well-rounded, though, and the reason I caused unrest in the punk bands I played bass for--I taught myself bass from Police albums, so thought nothing of trading out punk sixteenth notes for a slowed-down groove that none of my bandmates were in the mood for. On their own, these three musicians are certainly worthwhile, but together, when everyone is pulling their own weight and firing on all cylinders, they have a chemistry that is unmatched.
Outlandos d'Amour sees them discovering that chemistry, which is a beautiful thing, even if it is a bit raw at this stage. "Next to You" sounds like what early Beatles would have sounded like in 1978. The tempo is breathless, really the only element of punk the band ever utilized (and sparingly at that), but the lyrics are pure 1963 Paul McCartney. Ten tracks of this would get old, but the next song starts off like Marley's "No Woman No Cry," in a chill, yet lockstep reggae groove, before dashing into a punk tempo in the chorus--two tracks into their career, and already The Police are showcasing genre-fusion. "
Up next is one of the band's most popular songs, the urgent, reggae-influenced"Roxanne," followed by the jammy "Hole In My Life," and the energetic "Peanuts." This ends Side One (if you're listening on vinyl! ...and you should!).
Side Two kicks off with album highlight, "Can't Stand Losing You," which is again reggae-influenced, but experiments with a sort of dubby ambient ambiance in the bridge. This is followed by "Truth Hits Everybody," the most punk song on the album in sound, subject, and form. At this point, it seems like Outlandos d'Amour is going to be one of the greatest debuts in rock history. Unfortunately, however, this is just the moment where the album begins to run out of steam.
Track eight, "Born In the '50s," is the kind of sentimental baby-boomer "hey, look at me!" drivel that caused my generation to loathe our forebears. I don't like it. It makes me want to read this book.
"Be My Girl -- Sally," will appeal to a certain demographic: those who like a minute of one line repeated over-and-over again ("Will you be my girl"), followed by a spoken-word poem about a blow-up sex doll, followed by another minute of the same line repeated again and again. I am not in that demographic.
The album closes with "Masoko Tanga." The phrase "Six-minute Police instrumental" would generally be my catnip, but in this case, the band never hits upon that groove that you just want them to play forever, instead kind of just noodling along. Of course, they'd perfect that kind of groove just one album later!
1. Next to You 2:55
2. So Lonely 4:50
3. Roxanne 3:12
4. Hole in My Life 4:55
5. Peanuts 4:02
6. Can't Stand Losing You 2:59
7. Truth Hits Everybody 2:55
8. Born in the '50s 3:45
9. Be My Girl – Sally 3:24
10. Masoko Tanga 5:42