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Get Poor!

Posted: August 18th, 2004, by Dave Stockwell

Veterans of this here blog may remember a minor classic of a post from Mr Summerlin earlier this year (when we were waiting for snowstorms, no less), in which he advised any of you looking for exciting music that you hadn’t heard before to GET POOR and invest in some old ZZ Top LPs. Well, I’ve been following that advice myself in the last couple of months, following a self-imposed ban on buying expensive new albums whilst in the midst of a personal finance crisis (called moving house and sacking off your crappy bar job because you despise the people who ‘run’ the place). The result of which monk-like activity has been that I’ve somehow ended up with all five albums by The Police for less than a pound each.

Now The Police (not to be confused with erratically great/mental noiseniks Hair Police), in my humble opinion, have been the victims of a bad rap since their inception. Because they were never a ‘proper’ punk band, and they dared to have influences outside of yer basic rock ‘n’ roll confines, they somehow got unfairly maligned and swallowed up by the Adult Orientated Rock prism – like the one in Superman II that those 3 baddies get trapped in. People these days only seem to remember ‘Every Breath You Take’ as some kind of wretched ‘beautiful love song’; personally, I could never understand why Puff Daddy would want to use a song about obsessive stalking as a tribute to a murdered friend. My bandmates and friends have all looked at me and shaken their heads when I’ve mentioned how much I love some of The Police’s stuff in the past.

But Gordon ‘Sting’/’Cuntchops’ Sumner, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers were, a lot of the time, actually really fucking GREAT at being a jaw-droppingly tight, adventurous and ambitious band that also wrote some amazing songs that were often pretty damn simple but so crisply played that they’d put Shellac to shame. Sure, they got trapped in the overblown excess of the eighties towards the end, but even at their lowest ebb they’d often pull something out of the bag that was shockingly good.

I first heard The Police as a kid in the car, with an old greatest hits compilation tape going round and round on journeys to anywhere far away. Back then I thought they just wrote some catchy tunes, but going back to them these days I find myself entranced purely by the sound of Stewart Copeland casually thwapping the drums and making a minimal offbeat 4/4 rhythm sound like the classiest thing on earth, or Andy Summers tumbling out some more hand-crampingly spidery riffs with every song that passes. Even Sting’s lyrics generally haven’t reached a level of absurd pomposity until the last couple of albums, and even then they might actually be about something more complex than the hippy-dippy shit he comes out with nowadays ‘ check ‘Wrapped Around Your Finger’ or ‘Invisible Sun’ for songs about the machinations of a power struggle in an unbalanced relationship and growing up during ‘the Troubles’ in Northern Ireland, for example.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of chaff and wheat when it comes to The Police ‘ even their strongest albums (Outlandos D’Amour, Zenyatta Mondatta, and Synchronicity) have got some turgid shite on there, but when they come up with something good, usually it’s gold. Here was a band that came from a jazz background into punk and new wave, and then had the gall to successfully experiment with world music, reggae, tango and even SKA, for fuck’s sake (and they pulled the ska off too, on ‘Canary in a Coalmine’). Plus, they wrote songs about prostitutes, fucking sex dolls, a (Nabokov name-checking) Lolita-esque relationship between a teacher and a schoolgirl, and how having tantric sex enabled you to perceive the world working in perfect harmonious motion. I think.

Of course, these days Andy Summers has disappeared into jazz/fusion hell, Sting is a self-important & self-righteous twunt whose solo career has consistently been a pox on the entire world that he purports to be saving (and let’s not even go into destroying ‘Roxanne’ with Puff Daddy in ’97), and Stewart Copeland has been playing drums for Ray Manzarek’s horrendous ‘re-united’ The Doors of late. But for some reason I’m willing to forgive them anything ‘ and not just because Copeland also scored ‘Rumblefish’ and ‘Pecker’ (he’s also done ‘Very Bad Things’ and ‘She’s All That’, amongst many others).

Go and check your nearest second-hand record stall, or just go on eBay if you’re feeling lazy, and see how many bloody copies there are of all their LPs for ridiculously cheap prices (they’re easy to spot ‘ they’ve all got diabolically bad artwork). Plus, you won’t be lining Sting’s pockets any further, so there’s no need to feel any guilt. If you’re feeling especially poor, you could just plum for a Greatest Hits and save yourself the sorting through the shit. Even ye old over-familiar ‘Every Breath You Take’ is worth listening to if you hadn’t noticed the piano behind the synth-strings ‘ listen! It’s just like John Cale’s contribution to ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ all over again!

Or you could just download some MP3s.

I’m probably being ignorant of what’s cool (or maybe it’s that I don’t read magazines), but it does surprise me that given the bizarrely still-burgeoning popularity of ‘punk funk’ at the moment, The Police don’t seem to have been given more attention than a terrible cover of ‘Message in a Bottle’ by Machinehead in recent years. At least the none-more-evil !!! haven’t associated themselves with them, otherwise I’d be physically sick. Then again, Pinback‘s Rob Crow covered a couple of Klark Kent (a Copeland joke solo project) songs whilst in Heavy Vegetable ‘ and if you’re telling me that Rob Crow’s wrong, I don’t wanna be right! Or something.

Ho hum, back to writing about clever clever stuff like Steve R. Smith’s latest album on Digitalis or the Ivytree’s Feathered Wings on recent interviewees Catsup Plate soon.

Dave Stockwell

David can always be relied on to end his e-mails with one of those 'np: blah blah' things in order to remind us of how much more music he listens to every day than anybody else. His interests include rockin ' out in a major style as guitarist in Souvaris, throwing frisbees from tall buildings "just to see what happens" and simply kickin' back with his bitches in a gold-plated jacuzzi.


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