» Archive for November, 2007

The Police: Greatest Hits

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007 by Martin Hester

On 8th December 2007 Maracanã stadium will be the stage for a rock concert given by The Police, a three-man British pop music group. They began in 1977, and enjoyed ever-increasing success until 1984, when the members of the band went their separate ways, with individual artistic ventures. This year they reformed and started a revival tour, which has already won the Billboard award as Best Touring Show of 2007 – it has, up until end September, grossed receipts of US$ 171 million, through 53 shows seen by more than 1.5 million fans (that’s on average more than 28,000 audience and US$ 3 million takings each concert!). The Police sing songs composed by Sting, who is also the vocalist and best-known member of the group – still a gato and in top form at 56. The members of their audience – who used to be swooning teenagers in the 80s – will now be mums and dads, re-living wonderful moments from their youth plus sons and daughters being introduced to the band. Given the warmth, musicality and enthusiasm of Brazilian audiences, it should be quite an occasion.

Transformations in the pop music world
When The Police started 30 years ago, pop music was still controlled by the recording companies, and a hit LP could make the individual musicians rich and famous, because fans would pay to be able to listen to the music. But the arrival of CDs in the early 1980s, plus copying facilities through personal computers, made it possible to listen without having bought the music. After this came many different facilities for downloading music in mp3 format through the Internet for free which (although strongly resisted by the recording companies) has been a major contributor to taking the value out of the market for recorded music. A recording no longer makes a lot of money, either for the artist or for the recording company.
However, during the past few years, the demand for live performances has soared. So have ticket prices – even for a mass concert like The Police in Maracanã, prices range from R$160 to R$500… multiply this by say 60,000, and the take is around US$6 million for a two-hour show. (This really puts in the shade classical music in a concert hall, with audiences of less than 1,000 at say R$40 a head!).
But apart from the economics, it is also clear that there is a special form of communication and participation in a mass live performance – an interaction between the artists and those present – that simply cannot be reproduced electronically. So it is this trend which is reflected in the tour of The Police (as with the Rolling Stones before them).

The Way Up
The Police was originally started in 1977 by drummer Stewart Copeland (an American brought up in Beirute) together with Sting (Gordon Matthew Sumner), who is from Newcastle, where his father was a milkman. He initially worked as a ditch-digger and school teacher in English – but as much as he could, he played the bass in jazz and pop groups. Summers joined the group later, replacing punk guitarist Henry Padovani. Initially their recordings were produced by Copeland’s elder brother, and in 1978 he got A&M (later Universal) to launch Roxanne as a single – but it languished far from the charts. In 1978 the group went on a US tour, driving round in a rented van, and doing the production themselves. But their first album “Outlandos d’Amour” gradually began to sell. Their second album “Reggatta di Blanc” was preceded by Message in a Bottle which became a number 1 British single, while the album established the group as stars in England and Europe, topping the UK charts for 4 weeks.
After that, it seemed every album was a bigger hit than the previous: Zenyatta Mondatta (1980) then Ghost in the Machine (1981) and Synchronicity (1982/3).

Separation and Return
Then, at the height of their fame, in 1984, they decided to go their separate ways, as if they were now mature and could make it alone. Most of their audience was retained by Sting, who made many varied incursions into pop and jazz with different groups, as well as films. But the other members all worked successfully as musicians in different areas. They reunited on one occasion in 1986, and then again in 2003 – but it was only in early 2007 they decided to re-form as a group.

The CD
This CD really does have The Police’s best-known tracks, starting from Roxanne in 1978, and selecting from each of their 5 albums, up to “Wrapped around your finger” in 1983 – 12 in all (plus 2 remakes). All the songs are by Sting, and musically, the songs have an easy structure to follow – starting from a particular sort of sound or rhythmic pattern, the words that go with it are repeated with small variations, forming a refrain. There are then interludes with different harmonies and rhythm, where the words have more content, before getting back to the refrain again.
Sting sings with a high voice, above the normal range for a tenor, but still sounds very masculine and sexy – no wonder that he attracts female fans like a magnet! But he spaces the words across the rhythm with a subtle art, dragging way behind what the drummer is doing, and this push and drag gives the music an irresistible foot-tapping impulse. And while he’s doing all this, he’s playing bass guitar too!
The drummer Stewart Copeland is another phenomenon – clean, precise, with complex rhythms. His drumming on “Message in a bottle” is quoted as having set new standards. Andy Summers the guitarist has “a precise guitar attack that creates dense, interlocking waves of sounds and effects”. Adding all these ingredients together, it is evident this group is more technically proficient, and more sophisticated in its approach, than the average band playing their kind of music – which has been classified loosely as “punk rock” although “the trio’s nervous, reggae-injected pop/rock was punky, but not necessarily punk”. Well, so be it!
My personal favourite from this CD is “Every breath you take”. This starts off sparsely, with a rocking pattern from the guitar, single repeated notes from the bass, and occasional thwacks from the drums, while Sting sings
     Every breath you take
     Every move you make
     Every bond you break
     Every step you take
     I’ll be watching you….


This repeats with different words, and then comes a more lyrical interlude:
     O can’t you see
     You belong to me
     How my poor heart aches
     With every step you take…


Then after another repeat with different words, the music explodes with a shout:
     Since you’ve gone I’ve been lost without a trace
     I dream at night I can only see your face……


And then settles back into an instrumental passage, and repeats to fade….

all with the tension very carefully controlled, and the same steady, hypnotic beat. Great!

Hearing The Police live or not – Good Listening!