Sunday, December 5, 2010

#434: Outlandos d’Amour- The Police

Listened to: MP3
Ah. Finally, we enter the realm of one of the classic wordsmiths, Sting. The Police are one of those bands I keep forgetting I love, and Outlandos d’Amour contains a lot of the tracks that show why I love them. Tracks that have bleak lyrics set to upbeat, fun melodies (I try and do the same with my own music. Perhaps I fail, certainly compared to Sting, but regardless).

The album starts with “Next To You”, which may sound nothing like the Police you or I are used to, but believe it or not, this was their early sound. They considered themselves punk, and so you get this, what sounds like The Police covering a Bon Scott-era AC/DC track. It’s a fun track, but all the lyrical finesse I praised in the opening paragraph…yeah, just wait for the next one. “So Lonely” is a track by a suicidal Bob Marley, with happy reggae chords an beats, filled with lyrics like “Now no-one's knocked upon my door/For a thousand years, or more/All made up and nowhere to go/Welcome to this one man show/Just take a seat, they're always free/No surprise, no mystery/In this theatre that I call my soul/I always play the starring role, so lonely”. You can’t help but find yourself dancing to how lonely Sting is. No song this upbeat should be this bleak, and no white British guy should sound like he’s from Jamaica, and yet Sting and the boys make both of these work.

The next track is one of their most popular, “Roxanne”, the catchiest song about a hooker since Lou Reed. Though I can no longer hear this song without thinking of this:

let’s ignore that for a moment and focus on the song itself. It’s gonna one of the best simple guitar parts, a catchy hook, and don’t act like you don’t howl out the “Rooooooooooxanne” when you’re alone. Come on, admit it. It’s on a track like this, when the guitar, the bass, the drums all come together in pure mastery that you realize what a titanic force the Police were. They were all the masters of their instruments, and Sting somehow can be a geek (come on, he’s a skinny bookworm) and still be totally cool (take notes, Rivers Cuomo).

“Hole In My Life” takes on a jazzier feel, with backing vocals lifted from Sly & The Family Stone (I mean it feels that way, not that he actually lifts the vocals). It plays like a reject from Aimee Mann’s Magnolia soundtrack (am I the only one that hears “Momentum” in this?) and I mean that in the best way possible. We’re all used to listening to a classic album, and finding out the tracks we didn’t already know suck. But Outlandos doesn’t have that problem. It seems to me the unknown tracks could just as easily be Police classics as the radio staples. “Peanuts”, for example, is just as alive as the most upbeat Police track you can name, and ought to have gotten far more attention than it did, and hell, it probably would have if people didn’t forget it as soon as they heard the next track, the absolutely brilliant “Can’t Stand Losing You”.

The finest suicide note put to music after “God Only Knows”, “Can’t Stand Losing You” is another classic example of Police brilliance, blending the bleakest lyrics with he catchiest melody. You find yourself singing along with “But you’ll be sorry when I’m dead and all this guilt will be on your head” long before you process what you’re actually saying. “Truth Hits Everybody” might be some of Sting’ finest lyrics writing. The words read like a poem:
“Sleep lay behind me like a broken ocean
Strange waking dreams before my eyes unfold
You lay there sleeping like an open doorway
I stepped outside myself and felt so cold
Take a look at my new toy
It'll blow your head in two, oh boy”
Why this song isn’t higher praised in the pantheon of The Police is beyond me. I’ll go out and say this is, to me, the best track on the album. Its got a great hook, fun instrumentals, it’s got the punk roots blended with their new found late 70’s sensibility. Listen to the incorporation of bells and other unusual sounds, so subtle and yet they bring a whole new dimension to this simplistically gorgeous track.

“Born In The 50’s” is the kind of nostalgia track better left to Springsteen and McLean. The only under-whelming track on this album, while I love Sting’s vocals on this track, and the music isn’t terrible, it reads like a cheap knock-off of “We Didn’t Start The Fire”, and lacks Sting’s usual poetic voice, which only shines through on one line, “We freeze like statues on the pages of history”.

So, remember “In Every Dream Home A Heartache” on Roxy Music’s For Your Pleasure? Remember what that was about? Well, spoiler alert, that’s what this song is about. What sounds like a simple, catchy love song can’t be that if you’ve paid attention to any Police music. The chorus cuts out and goes to a simple spoken word poem about purchasing a blow-up doll. This is one of the coolest tracks no one’s heard, like Tom Waits’ “What’s He Building In There?” for the pervy set, book ended by a typical catchy Police chorus. Any frustration I had at the cheap simplicity of “Born in the 50’s” is eradicated by the simple brilliance of this track.

The album ends on “Masoko Tanga”, a song that seems to predict the future, more experimental sound of The Police, with instrumentals that sound more Talking Heads than punk. Come on, the dude’s just chanting and doing Caribbean curses. There are no lyrics. He’s just playing, jamming with hi band like a great jazz man.

This album had ought to prove Sting is a master of his craft, creating both catchy poip like “Next To You” and “So Lonely” and branching out and experimenting with tracks like the final two. I have no qualms at all with it’s place on the list. Is it revolutionary? Well, maybe not, but it’s sure as hell great to listen to, and I encourage you to do just that. It’s one of the better way to kill a half hour.


Next up we have #168: My Aim Is True by the one-of-a-kind Elvis Costello.

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