Stewart Copeland, Sting, and Andy Summers were all veteran musicians when they formed The Police in London in 1977. Copeland had drummed for progressive rock band Curved Air, Sting had played in the jazz fusion band Last Exit, while Summers’ career as a guitarist dated back to the 1960s when he played with The Animals and Soft Machine. They released their debut in 1978, and by the time of their final album, 1983’s Synchronicity, they were arguably the world’s most popular band.
My enjoyment of The Police’s albums was spoiled by starting with their 1992 Greatest Hits compilation. The compilation of singles almost unerringly puts their sixteen best songs in one place, and makes their studio albums look patchy in comparison. The Police were a great singles band, but merely a good album band. All of their albums are worthwhile but none is a stone-cold classic, meaning there’s not a lot of consensus about what their best album is.
Time pressure was one factor for their lack of great albums; 1980’s Zenyatta Mondatta was completed at 4 am of the morning that the group embarked on a world tour. Sting’s best work as an album artist came in his early solo career when he could release albums at a more relaxed pace. The Police’s run of singles is unimpeachable, but it’s worth digging into their albums for overlooked songs like ‘It’s Alright For You’ and ‘Omegaman’.
The Police Albums: Ranked From Worst to Best
#5 Outlandos D’Amour
Despite their bleached blonde hair and energetic songs, The Police weren’t wholeheartedly punk. The angst and energy of songs like ‘Next To You’ and ‘Can’t Stand Losing You’ is enjoyable, Outlandos D’Amour sounds best, however, when the trio use their chops to explore different genres. ‘So Lonely’ is an accomplished hybrid of rock and reggae, while ‘Roxanne’ uses a tango beat. It’s a shame about ‘Be My Girl – Sally’ though.
#4 Ghost in the Machine
The Police were expanding beyond the confines of a three-piece band on their fourth record, adding keyboards and horns. It’s dated less gracefully than their other records, but their attempts to expand their sound are often fascinating. Summers’ creative riff writing is on display on ‘Omegaman’ – it was scheduled as the first single before Sting objected, and instead it’s one of the band’s best deep cuts. As always in The Police, Sting’s reliable for some great singles; the political ‘Invisible Sun’ and the piano-driven ‘Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic’.
#3 Zenyatta Mondatta
Zenyatta Mondatta is the quintessential Police album – they’re no longer white punks playing reggae, but have their own unique, synergistic sound. The trio have complained about how it was rushed, and re-recorded two of the songs in 1986. Sting hated Summers’ instrumental ‘Behind My Camel’, refusing to play bass on it and burying the tapes in the yard, but it won a Grammy for best instrumental. The hit singles though, were Sting’s ‘Don’t Stand So Close To Me’ and ‘De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da’.
The final Police album shows Sting moving toward a solo career as he dominates the excellent second side. There’s little punk or reggae, and The Police are playing radio-friendly pop/rock on tracks like the mega-hit ‘Every Breath You Take’ and ‘King of Pain’. The first side is uneven – Summers’ histrionic ‘Mother’ is a career low point and Sting’s ‘Walking In Your Footsteps’ is little more than atmosphere, although Copeland’s ‘Miss Gradenko’ is quirky fun.
#1 Regatta de Blanc
The Police didn’t have much material when they recorded their second album in producer Nigel Gray’s converted dairy depot. Copeland’s ‘Does Everyone Stare?’ was recycled from a piano piece he wrote in college, while Sting brought in ideas from Last Exit to create ‘The Bed’s Too Big Without You’ and ‘Bring on the Night’. Given the initial dearth of material, Regatta de Blanc is surprisingly satisfying. Sting’s ‘Message in the Bottle’ is the band’s crowning achievement, a view shared by Andy Summers, who wrote in his book One Train Later that “it’s still the best song Sting ever came up with and the best Police track.”
Do you have a favourite Police album? Or song?