Monday, April 03, 2017
The Police -- Ghost in the Machine
Ghost in the Machine is the weirdest Police record, and also the most disappointing. That album cover, along with the opening track, "Spirits in the Material World," gives the impression that the listener is in for some kind of dark, futuristic mysticism--all three band members operating at full capacity in a sort of endless moonlight groove, over a signature synth-line. Then, track two pops up, and it's the poppiest song The Police ever recorded. Still, "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic," is infectious and energetic, and features a 90-second outro full of drummer Stewart Copeland going nuts. Copeland then has a hand tied behind his back for "Invisible Sun," a dark, cool, and driving synth-focused track that relegates the master drummer to mostly hitting one tom. The song seems to continue the themes of "Spirits in the Material World," and it appears the listener is getting a concept album exploring the title of the album, with some pop hits mixed in. And then Sting starts wailing on the saxophone.
I don't want to say that tracks four, five, six, seven, and eight are all complete missteps, but that five song stretch is a definite low-point in The Police's oeuvre. Sting tries to sing in French on one of these, but no matter what language he's singing in, these songs are pretty bad. The space The Police explored so deftly on their past albums is completely missing here. Sting's "melodies" often involve constant, staccato-style singing, and during the rare moment that he isn't doing that, he's picked up the afore-mentioned sax and starting blowing away. The time-signatures are essentially all a robotic 4/4, leaving Copeland little room to improvise, and guitarist, Andy Summers, to noodle away in the wash of noise. When the time-signature and tempo finally does change, and Copeland bursts free on track eight, "One World (Not Three)," the song is so goofy and sax-saturated, it doesn't even make a difference. However, if you take the song away from the horrid river pushing it downstream, i.e., the previous four tracks, it works a lot better.
Then, as suddenly as it horrifically appeared, the sax disappears. I love the saxophone, but I do not love when Sting tries to play the saxophone on The Police records. The three closing songs mirror the three openers, as they don't sound like the album's awful middle. "Omegaman"'s chorus guitar-line sounds unfortunately like a saxophone, reawakening bad memories barely put to bed, but it's so driving in its other sections, it is a great change of pace. "Secret Journey" sounds like what "Spirits in the Material World" hinted the entire album would sound like, dark and mystical, with plenty of space for every member of the band to explore. The album ends with Stewart Copeland's greatest songwriting contribution to the The Police's catalogue, "Darkness." Interestingly enough, with Stewart as songwriter, the drums are very minimal, but the song, mostly piano-based, does a great job of creating an atmosphere of self-doubt. Most shockingly of all, Sting actually sings somebody else's song like he means it. Thus ends The Police's weakest record. Four albums in four years can do that to you.
This vinyl was around the house during my early childhood. I don't remember having this negative a reaction to it, but then again, we only listened to one side at a time. I never had to listen to tracks four through eight straight on without that merciful pause between five and six. Still, I really enjoy the first three and last three tracks, and as much as I dislike the middle five, it's still The Police. I'd rather listen to this than Justin Bieber. Beiber? Beeber?
1980 A&M Records
1. Spirits in the Material World 2:59
2. Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic 4:22
3. Invisible Sun 3:44
4. Hungry for You (J'aurais toujours faim de toi) 2:52
5. Demolition Man 5:57
6. Too Much Information 3:43
7. Rehumanize Yourself 3:10
8. One World (Not Three) 4:47
9. Ωmegaman 2:48
10. Secret Journey 3:34
11. Darkness 3:14