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Monday, March 27, 2017

The Police -- Zenyatta Mondatta


If you're like me, and enjoy the jammy, reggae-injected side of The Police the best, their five-album catalogue peaks right in the middle, at Zenyatta Mondatta. The band is more beholden to Sting's pop experiments on their latter two albums, but the more free, less polished, trademarked trio-stylings reach their zenith right here--and each member is firing away at every talented cylinder. Perhaps this is because the band recorded Zenyatta Mondatta on such a tight schedule. There was not time to go back and tinker with songs, or for Sting to add a bunch of saxophones. In a few cases, there wasn't even time to write lyrics. This all leads to the "purest" sound The Police achieved on record. There are still huge hits, "Don't Stand So Close to Me," and "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da," which practically definined the band's career. But through each track, there's the constant feel of three guys in a room, jamming together, fully exploring their potent chemistry. I talked in my Reggatta de Blanc review about how The Police were able to record some instrumental moments that I wish could go on forever. That's almost this entire album. If I had to boil it down to one moment, it's the outro of the ridiculously titled, but deceptively deep "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da." The band hit upon a groove that could very well last forever. The sound engineer fades the song out while Sting, Andy Summers, and Stewart Copeland are still playing, and I wonder how long it took for the three of them to actually stop. If I was any one of them, I would have played that part until my fingers slipped from bleeding. There's also a mystical feeling produced here, mostly created in the album's two near instrumentals (there are two purely instrumental songs, as well). "Voices Inside My Head" and "Shadows in the Rain" feature minimal lyrics that are more mantras than anything, as the band hammer away at some timeless musical stone. If the album has a flaw, it's the one that eventually caused the band's demise: Sting wrote all but three of these songs, and when his bandmates write lyrics and melodies for him to sing, they both don't quite suit him, and don't seem to stir his fancy. Thankfully, two out of these three songs are instrumentals (and one won a Grammy!), but Stewart Copeland's "Bombs Away," while not lacking in musical quality, stands out from the rest of the pack for the reason stated above--Sting just doesn't seem into it, and the singing pattern and melody are quite clearly different from the ones he writes for himself. So Zenyatta Mondatta isn't quite perfect (and not giving it a ten is causing me a near existential crisis), but it is a near-perfect distillation of The Police's classic trio sound, and a sublime one, at that. Also, that Stewart Copeland is a pretty good drummer.

1980 A&M
1. Don't Stand So Close to Me 4:04
2. Driven to Tears 3:20
3. When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around 3:38
4. Canary in a Coalmine 2:26
5. Voices Inside My Head 3:53
6. Bombs Away 3:06
7. De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da 4:09
8. Behind My Camel 2:54
9. Man in a Suitcase 2:19
10. Shadows in the Rain 5:04
11. The Other Way of Stopping 3:22

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