Cornish Engineering

Cornish Engineering (2007)


February 18, 2007 at 10 PM

Call The Police

Stephen Metcalf really nails his piece for Slate on the trouble with Sting, the archetypal pretentious rocker. Or as he puts it, channelling Bob Geldof, “How could a Geordie twat like Sting have fronted a band as great as the Police?” Metcalf thinks that Police drummer Stewart Copeland played Lennon to Sting’s McCartney, and thus, later:

Unyoked from Copeland, Sting was free to become what he is today: one-third spirit in the material world, two-thirds scented candle.

For the better part of 20 years as a solo artist, the King of Pain has been locked in a Mexican standoff with the rest of humanity. We refuse to believe that he is deep; he refuses to believe he is shallow. Nothing—no amount of sniggering on our part, no amount of Elizabethan luting on his—has broken this impasse.

Yet Metcalf ends up coming around to the idea that Sting isn’t such a bad chap after all, based on a revelation in Sting’s biography that he had all but given up on music by the time he became associated with Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers. The Police were “an unanticipated, and almost thoroughly cynical, shot at cashing in on the punk ethos,” and Metcalf has decided that Sting’s later solo career is merely evidence of “a twerpie overachiever who, embarrassed by his humble lineage, never stops trying out for the lit magazine. Such a person may be clueless but is not obnoxious.”

I came of age too late to really appreciate The Police in their heyday. Instead, I got the endless replay of the singles on radio and Sting’s better solo albums, The Soul Cages and Ten Summoner’s Tales. But Sting’s solo music doesn’t really stand up to time, at least not the way The Police’s best material does. Watching Sting, Copeland and Summers perform at the Grammy Awards sent me digging for the good stuff, and I found, not altogether to my surprise, that the earlier in their career that I went, the more I dug it. The Police - Outlandos d'Amour In other words, before Sting got his new-age jazzy mitts on things, The Police were a damn fine rock band.

Outlandos d’Amour, Reggatta de Blanc and Zenyatta Mondatta, the first three albums, feature nary a miss. The singles are great, but for me the nuggets are the fantastic cuts that were never exhausted by radio ubiquity. Listen to “Hole in My Life” (M4A, 53 second excerpt) and just try not to tap your toes. Those harmonies, they kill me every time.

Watching old live footage of The Police, I’m struck by a band at the forefront of their craft. It all started to sour with Ghost in the Machine, and by Synchronicity it was really just Sting and a disgruntled backup band, but those first few years make up for just about every sappy thing that “Geordie twat” has done since.

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