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Music: Official Police Business

5 minute read
Jay Cocks

A small and fractious supergroup storms through the summer

Like nuclear scientists, baseball managers and political pollsters, the folks in the music business love numbers. It’s the one sure way to chart success. In short order, then, a few stats about the Police. Sold out Shea Stadium in New York City in five hours on first leg of current U.S. concert tour. That’s 67,000 seats. Eased Michael Jackson off the top of the album chart, where he seemed to have established a penthouse. Scored a No. 1 single, Every Breath You Take, which is hanging on tight. With 3.5 million copies of their album Synchronicity already sold worldwide, and with big plans for a tour of Japan and Australia in 1984, may have clear current title to the ultimate accolade: hottest group in the world. Western world. Rock-‘n’-roll division.

But perhaps a slightly different standard should be suggested. Every Breath You Take, the sinuous, sinister and entirely irresistible Police single, is the sound track of the late summer, the song of the season, just as Flashdance . . . What a Feeling and David Bowie’s Let’s Dance were early summer’s anthems. There is no getting away from Every Breath You Take, with its whipcrack rhythms and cool, insinuating lyrics, and there is no wanting to, either. The song, and the album it comes from, are like a strange balm, at first soothing to hear, then more disturbing and more memorable. This is rock music that is not only canny commerciality, but has high and serious ambition intellectually. It isn’t often, after a11, that Carl Jung hits the top of the charts.

Police’s lead singer and premier song writer, who is called Sting, explains: “Jung believed there was a large pattern to life, that it wasn’t just chaos. Our song Synchronicity II is about two parallel events that aren’t connected logically or causally, but symbolically.” That’s a tall order for a five-minute four-second tune, but Sting is a fleet writer and his song can carry the weight. Drummer Stewart Copeland has a slightly different, more bemused explanation. He maintains that “Sting is in his Germanic-scientists-of-unpronounceable-names phase. I know he has an interest in this stuff. I only make fun of it because it serves him right for taking it all so seriously.”

There is one point, anyway, on which all three members of the group agree. Guitarist Andy Summers: “Sting is the most consummate writer of pop songs in the group, so we wind up doing more of his songs than anybody else’s.” Copeland: “The only thing I envy is Sting’s voice and his songwriting ability.” The gentleman in question: ‘I’m the best songwriter. It’s as simple as that.”

Perhaps not quite. Sting has a hip, slightly frosty presence and a vulpine sexuality to which he does not like attention to be drawn (“It’s a pejorative, demeaning. I got a brain, you know”). Nevertheless, it is getting him good movie-acting work. He starred in Brimstone and Treacle and will appear as the head heavy in the upcoming Dino De Laurentiis/David Lynch film of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi behemoth Dune. Stage presence and movie appearances tend to reinforce each other, producing a charisma that may be inadvertent but is certainly undeniable. Copeland puts it simply, “His face is our face.”

Certainly he is the dominant part of the face. But like one of those composite drawings on a wanted poster, the face of the Police seems made from disparate observations. The particulars on the poster might run like this:

Copeland: 31, born in Virginia, brought up in Beirut. Thought his father was a business consultant; learned later he was a high-ranking CIA employee. Brother Miles manages group, which was founded in 1977 and christened by Stewart. (The name Police is a wise-guy reference to dad’s line of work.) Married, one baby, one stepson. Summers: 40, and gets ragged about it. Loves Django Reinhardt, reggae, ska and photography. Divorced; likes to talk about his sex life. Sting: 31, born Gordon Matthew Sumner. Grew up in Wallsend, England. Bass player. Various accounts origin of nickname: ceaseless buzzing energy; onetime habit of wearing black-and-yellow striped sweaters. Discovered by Copeland playing a gig with “a couple of old jazzers” in a school classroom. Getting divorced (see Every Breath You Take); likes to talk matters intellectual. Favorite music: Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 6.

These fragments of a sometimes combative personality lead to a precarious seesaw act within the band. “I haven’t much team spirit,” Sting confesses. “Relationships in the band are difficult. We have large egos, large talents, large personalities.” Laughs Copeland: “Sting can’t dominate because he’s outnumbered. With the Police, it’s always two against one.” Admits Summers: “We’re too pussyfooted to hit each other. We haven’t got down to physical blows yet. But it gets pretty tense sometimes.”

The more direct, slightly raw sound of Synchronicity, with its emphasis on a tight trio playing and disaffection from synthesizer and sax, pleases Summers. The fact is that the Police, like the Who, draw their dynamism directly from intramural tension. It may only be, as Copeland describes it, like “kids at the dinner table arguing over who’s got more Rice Krispies.” But the snap, crackle and pop of the Police are the sounds of rock ‘n’ roll, summer 1983 and on into the next months. And very well on, too.

—By Jay Cocks.

Reported by Stephen Koepp/New York

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