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Music

Ranking The Police albums in order of greatness

If you ask me there are three so-called punk bands that shouldn’t be referred to as punk. There’s The Ramones because their outlet was too limited; there’s The Clash because their output was too expressive, and then there’s The Police who were just too good to be labelled “punk”. 

Drummer Stewart Copeland had toured as part of progressive rock band Curved Air before he encountered a journalist-turned bassist eager to front a band, taking the name of Sting. True, they were briefly bolstered by Henry Padavoni on lead guitar, but when 1960s session player Andy Summers expressed an interest in joining the band, The Police were never going to stick to the “stop-start” feel punk rock demanded of them. 

Padavoni was asked to leave the band, leaving the classic line-up to record their debut, which found the band curating a form of reggae-pop that helped bassist Sting to sing as he played. From their rugged, raucous debut came a desire to test out newer, more absurd genres, many of which were heard on their superb Reggata de Blanc

Bravado provided The Police with a backbone, but by 1983, Sting felt he could stomach a more confessional form of art, which resulted in Synchronicity. Sting embarked on a solo career, and Copeland re-invented himself as a soundtrack composer par excellence, curating the backbeat to Rumble Fish and Wall Street. Summers recently issued a novel, proving that the band have continued to be creative even after parting from each other.

Below, we’re looking back through the band’s discography and ranking their impressive albums in order of greatness.

Ranking The Police albums from worst to best

5. Zenyatta Mondatta (1980)

Three albums in, and the trio’s jaunty formula was starting to grow stale. Recognising the need to stay relevant in the realm of pop, Sting, Copeland and Summers opted to rip up their self-appointed modus operandi to record the dizzyingly inventive Ghost in the Machine

Luckily their songwriting had improved by 1981, which was a relief because some of the tracks on Zenyatta Mondatta are beyond awful. Sting’s lyrics were starting to dry up, as was evident on the banal ‘De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da’, but Summers plodding instrumental ‘Behind My Camel’ was scarcely more interesting. 

In fact, it’s Copeland who comes good on the album, whether it’s counting the off-beats on ‘Voices Inside My Head’, or by proferring two battily written pieces of his own. Out of the two, ‘Bombs Away’ is the stronger offering, but ‘The Other Way of Stopping’ is a formidable closer to the album. 

4. Outlandos d’Amour (1978)

The Police started off as a punk outfit, before abandoning the genre to encompass pop, jazz, blues and hints of reggae. The band’s debut is a hybrid album, as the trio cloak themselves under the magic of punk, before showcasing an interesting voice of their own. 

There are some splashes of razorblade sonics, especially on the exhilarating ‘Next to You’, but the band – especially Summers – sound more relaxed on the jauntier, more romantic sounding pieces. The guitarist sings ‘Be My Girl—Sally’, a kaleidoscopic number peppered with Sting’s frenzied bass notes. 

If the album can boast a masterpiece, then it is ‘Roxanne’, but ‘Can’t Stand Losing You’ and ‘So Lonely’ offer an insight into Sting’s fractured mind. By the time they recorded their fifth and final album, he felt comfortable enough to embrace the emotional turmoil of his divorce with Irish actress Frances Tomelty. 

3. Synchronicity (1983)

This one’s tricky: The songwriting standard ranks among the very best of the band’s career, barring the execrable ‘Mother’, but it’s not exactly a “Police” album. The drums are sustained, the hooks are played with tight, taut feeling, and the production highlights Sting’s vocals over the instruments behind him. 

Then again, it would be too much of an oversimplification to call the album a Sting record in all but name, especially since Copeland has the blinding polemical rocker ‘Miss Gradenko’ in his pocket. Summers acquits himself nicely to ‘Every Breath You Take‘, cementing the melody with a counter-melody that wound up being sampled on P Diddy’s ‘I’ll Be Missing You’. 

But the material was decidedly more personal in nature to the albums that came before it, as Sting absolved himself from past misgivings on the understated ‘Wrapped Around Your Finger’ and the excellent ‘King of Pain’. Sting was mature enough to realise he would never again get so much leeway on a band album, and following their seminal performance at Shea Stadium in 1983, he left. 

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2. Ghost in the Machine (1981)

Constrained by the tight deadline that had led to their third album, so the trio decided to move to AIR Studios in Montserrat, in the hope of loosening up their sound. It was done to avoid the recording executives that had frequented their sessions, and the band sound liberated, particularly Sting, who seems to have returned to his bass with renewed vigour. 

Indeed, the album might stand as his acme as a bass player, flitting from the pulsating ‘Hungry For You (J’Aurais Toujours Faim De Toi)’ to the freneticism of ̀’Rehumanize Yourself’. The band were also embracing new textures in their work, and ‘Every Little She Does Is Magic’ is soaked with a barrelling piano line that prompts the bassist to deliver one of the most animated vocals on the record. 

It’s not entirely perfect. There are one too many political numbers, the guitars sound flat on ‘Secret Journey’ and no synthesiser could ever mask how awful ‘Spirits In The Material World’ is. But when the invention works, it works, and no less an art-rock luminary than Grace Jones covered the band’s giddily-written ‘Demolition Man’ in 1981. 

1. Regatta de Blanc (1979)

Now, this is as close to perfect as you are likely to get in the field of rock. The band sound rocking, bending every genre to their will, which includes the thunderous title track, all bouncy cymbals and choppy guitar licks. The album boasts ‘Message In A Bottle’, which demonstrates the three men chiming into the rock number as if performing it to the millions who would go on to watch them on stage. 

Copeland presents three enjoyable numbers, which includes ‘On Any Other Day’, a hypnotic rocker cloaked in Frank Zappa’s subversive influence. Summers exhibits stellar levels of innovation on ‘The Bed’s Too Big Without You’, while ‘Bring On The Night’ holds one of Sting’s more impactful vocals. 

Indeed, it’s the band’s definitive work, boasting all the proclivities of their collective metier. As it happens, the album worked both in the studio and on the stage, proving the band’s versatility, vigour and sheer power.