The Police: Albums Ranked from Worst to Best

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 on 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 complained about how it was rushed and re-recorded two of its 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’.

#2 Synchronicity

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 RegGatta 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, Reggatta 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?

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  1. Good post, every Police album had at least one song I really liked. My favourite songs in no particular order are “Message in a Bottle,” “Can’t Stand Losing,” Synchronicity II” and “Don’t Stand too Close to Me.”

  2. Nice list. My favorite Police album is…all of them. Each record has its own unique charms & distinct sound. I got into them after Regatta De Blanc when I was 13 so I got to enjoy the next three albums as they were released. I played them to death, none more than Synchronicity, which I probably listened to every day throughout the summer of ’83. Saw them on the Ghost In The Machine and Synchronicity tours. The former was amazing. The latter, at Shea Stadium, didn’t have the same impact.

      • I didn’t see the reunion tour since I had already seen them in their prime. I do have the special cd/dvd set from that tour and I love it.
        Yep, I like “Mother” and consider it integral to the overall album. I wouldn’t play it separately or put it on a Police compilation, though. I love all of Copeland’s contributions. Are you familiar with his Klark Kent material? It’s fantastic.

  3. Great list.
    I’ve been slowly picking away at picking up The Police stuff on vinyl when I come across it at a decent price used.
    The only I need to get is your number 5 pick.
    Since I have been digging into these albums I find that they some stellar stuff on there albums and some so-so stuff.
    I had no idea Sting buried the tapes in the yard. lol. Man I wonder what Summers said to Sting when he got the Grammy. haha.
    If I was to do a Top 5 Police list the only change I would make is flipping your Number 1 to 3 and 3 to 1.
    For some reason Zenyatta is my fav. Must be something to do that buried track. lol

    • Zenyatta is the most Police-like album IMO, so it makes sense that it’s a favourite. Some good album tracks on it. Most of the stories seems like they’re about Sting being a dork to Summers (Summers didn’t get a writing credit for his Every Breath You Take riff), but it was Sting and Copeland who fought a lot.

  4. Great group! And maybe with the best drummer from his generation. Many, many excellent and cool songs. Personal favorites: Bring on the night, Message in a bottle, Every little thing she does in magic.

  5. Overall, I dig The Police and was happy to catch them on their reunion tour. I feel the fact that some songs are stronger than others on any given album is true for most artists.
    “Message in a Bottle” is a great tune. While I still like it, I feel it’s been very overexposed. One of my favorites is “Spirits in the Material World”. I just love Sting’s bassline on that one!

    • I do think Sting’s better at albums and worse at singles – ‘Fortress Around Your Heart’ is like his only solo hit that sounds like it could have joined the run of great Police hits.

      • That’s an interesting observation. I guess one could also mention “If You Love Somebody (Set Them Free)” in this context.
        That being said, I pretty much dig every tune on “Ten Summoner’s Tales.” But except perhaps for “Fields of Gold,” I guess none of the songs really sound like true radio hits. There’re better!😀

        • Ten Summoners Tales is pretty radio-friendly IMO – just not in a Police way. I do think some of his solo singles sound forced – ‘We’ll Be Together’ in particular.

  6. I don’t think I have a favorite Police album because their good songs are spread out all over the place on different albums like you said. I could pick favorite songs though.
    When the World is Running Down
    Walking On The Moon
    Demolition Man
    Voices Inside My Head
    Synchronicity ll
    Spirits in the Material World
    Driven to Tears
    Message in a Bottle
    Canary in a Coal Mine
    King of Pain

  7. You are right…they are more of a singles band… Zenyatta Mondatta is my favorite.
    Synchronicity I heard way too much.

  8. Great list. This is one I have been contemplating doing a ranking on. I will wait a little while now, but will use this as inspiration. If I picked right this second, I love Synchronicity as it had so many great songs (Synchronicity II my fav). Keep ’em coming!

  9. Ghost In The Machine is my favorite Police album. Spirits In The Material World and Wrapped Around Your Finger are my favorite songs. Great post!

  10. Agree that they are more a singles band. I remember the high school parties everyone singing along to Roxanne. My favorites are Message in a bottle and Synchronicity II – I love the lyrics – “We have to shout above the din of our rice krispies” “Packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes” the stress of everyday life in an industrial city and the forboding images in the chorus

      • Ghost is the weakest album, but better than most albums of most other artists. They all have such different feels. Synchronicity has to be my favourite, loaded with brilliant tunes and lyrics (but yes, Mother is awful. What the???).
        “Packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes…”
        “We have to shout above the din of our Rice Krispies”

        Love it.

        • Ooh, sorry – you already found it!

          I kind of wish they’d slowed down a wee bit – I don’t think Sting was quite prolific enough to write an album a year, even though the best moments (a lot of the singles, side two of Synchronicity) are as good as anything in rock music.

  11. I was a massive Police fan back in the day and saw them many times in concert. I loved their debut album and my enthusiasm grew until Ghost in the Machine. I applaud the willingness to expand and create new, but I recollect being quite being quite disappointed upon my first listen. .Synchronicity to me had taken the band too far away from why I loved them. Many would suggest that Sting’s writing had hit new heights, but the sound was too processed and too layered for my liking. Even the Synchronicity concert was far more theatre than ‘The Police’ to me.
    Still, I loved their reunion tour and enjoyed being right up front to soak up the sounds and sweat!
    My ranking of their albums:
    1. Reggatta de Blanc
    2. Outlandos d’Amour
    3. Zenyatta Mondatta
    4. Synchronicity
    5. Ghost in the Machine

    • Thanks for writing in. I get not liking Synchronicity if you were there from the start – it’s certainly Sting taking over the band more than before. That second side is his best ever run of songs for my money though. I find Outlandos tricky because I don’t find them convincing as a punk band, even though it has some really good tunes.

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