Monday, 15 October 2018
The Police - Zenyatta Mondatta ( 1980)
Released October 1980
After two impressive, reggae-influenced, vaguely punky albums, The Police had caught on with more than just new wave fans and were now on the verge of briefly becoming the biggest bands around. They released copper-bottomed classic singles that their albums could never quite match, to be honest. Compared to albums from the same period from The Clash, The Jam or Elvis Costello this is definitely coming up second. This was their most successful of their five albums though. I do feel, though, that The Police's albums were always slightly lacking in something, that certain je ne sais quoi that raised them higher, to classic status. None of their albums are classics. They were often blighted by internal band problems - Sting's "writer's block", pressure of touring, the requirement to meet commercial demand for an album, the band members falling out. For those reasons, the albums feel a bit incomplete, with some filler, often instrumentals that sound like demo backing tracks.
Anyway, on to the songs. “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” is a now iconic, irresistibly catchy number about a teacher’s problems about the teenage pupil who has a crush on him. It is a great song, with a bit of wry humour on there from Sting’s experience as a teacher no doubt. “Driven To Tears” is classic Police white reggae, featuring a “Walking On The Moon”-style riff. The bassy reggae stylings are still there on the wordily-titled “When The World Is Running Down, You Make The Best Of What’s Still Around”. “Canary In A Coal Mine” has echoes of Talking Heads in its manic, frantically-strummed electric guitar riff.
The semi-instrumental “Voices Inside My Head” has a huge, pumping drum, bass and guitar intro and some hints of African chanted vocals. It has a beefy, impressive sound but, as I alluded to earlier, I cannot help but feel that it sounds almost like an unfinished demo that never quite made it to being a full song. The Police put several tracks like this on their albums and it does give the impression that they were slightly short of material. That said, it still sounds good.
“Bombs Away” sees the band getting cyncically political. It is ok, but somehow doesn’t quite work for me. It has that typical Police rock sound (without the reggae). “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da”, however, is another of those killer singles, a perfect example of a classic early eighties new wave hit single. “Behind My Camel” is another instrumental, but it is a good one. Sting, however, loathed it and refused to play on it. Andy Summers plays all the guitar bits. “Man In A Suitcase” is a typical upbeat piece of straight-up Police rock, while “Shadows In The Rain” is one of the album’s best cuts - a haunting, bassy white reggae thumper. Full of atmosphere. The final cut, “The Other Way Of Stopping” is, would you believe, another instrumental. The presence of these tracks considerably undermine the claims of those who say this is one of the greatest rock albums of its age. It hints at a paucity of tracks of the standard of some of the others to me. This album, like its predecessor, doesn't quite get there.
- October 15, 2018