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Catchgroove’s Hall Of Fame: The Police – Ghost In The Machine

January 11, 2018

I sometimes forget how huge a pop band The Police were at the end of the 70s and beginning of the 80s. It could be argued that they were the first new-wave band to have mainstream success.

The Police have not been in my rotation for ages, but recently I heard “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” on the radio and that prompted me to listen to my favorite Police album: Ghost In The Machine. It is as good as I remember. The things I liked about it are:

  • Synths – rarely does adding synths to a rock band make them better – The Police defied the odds and made it work for them
  • Horns – I love a rock song enhanced with horns – Sting even plays sax on the album
  • Musicianship – The Police were not punks or garage musicians, they were highly skilled musicians – on this album they were fearless about showing off their chops
  • Pop – despite their musical sophistication, The Police knew how to write a killer single – there are three hits on this album
  • Saw it live – I saw the tour that supported this album and the band was tight

The Police managed to go on to even greater artistic and commercial heights with their next album Synchronicity, but Ghost In The Machine remains my favorite. It is more deliberately pop, whereas Synchronicity seemed at points to be trying too hard to be deliberately artsy. I prefer Ghost In The Machine’s pop.

Ghost In The Machine was the first Police album I bought. Their previous 3 albums had some great singles that got plenty of airplay, but none of them prompted me to buy the LPs. In the old days you needed to be a pretty serious fan to make the financial commitment to buy an LP.

Side One leads off with the big singles one right after another:

  1. “Spirits in the Material World”
  2. “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic”
  3. “Invisible Sun”

The side then moves into the non-hits. Next up is “Hungry for You” a song sung mostly in French. It has fairly lecherous lyrics that are disguised by being sung in French (everything sounds more beautiful in French).

The side ends with “Demolition Man.” Sting originally wrote the song for Grace Jones for her 1981 album Nightclubbing (a pretty great album too). The Police version is much more rocking than Grace’s version.

Side Two does not have any hits, but is still great. The Police almost become a prog band on this side. They ride a razor’s edge between pure pop and experimentation.  The Police manage to live on that edge, with the pop side generally winning.

The opening cut “Too Much Information” has a wonderful horn riff.

“Re-Humanize Yourself” is like a 50s rock and roll song that has been mutated into something very modern with its amphetamine pace and cacophony arrangement.

“One World (Not Three) is a pretty straight reggae tune.

“Omegaman” is a guitar driven song that would not sound out-of-place on a Rush album (another trio of amazing musicians).

“Secret Journey” opens with some nice synth washes and slowly winds up into a quintessential Police song: rhythm, riffs and hooks.

“Darkness” ends the album on a mellow note. This could be a great Sade song.

Overall, the album does not sound dated.  In hindsight you can see how influential The Police were on 80s music.  And you can see their influence in similarly art-pop bands like Arcade Fire.

What defines The Police, for me, is great songwriting and great musicianship – Ghost In The Machine has a generous portion of both. The Police would only have one more studio album in them – Sting was too big a diva to be bound by a band and Andy Summers and Stuart Copeland had too big of egos to play second banana to a pop star. But they had one hell of a run and Ghost In The Machine shows them at their peak.

  1. I’m a pretty big Police fan too. It’s funny but I never once thought to wonder about which was my favorite of their albums. I think “Synchronicity” is one-half of a great album. I’ll cop out and say my favorite is their box set. So much good stuff. I should put together a Spotify list of their stuff for the car.

  2. Blondie were up there too for a new wave band breaking into the mainstream early. Or The Cars.

    • You are right they all kind of exploded about the same time. It was an exciting time.

    • Talking Heads probably belong on that list too.

      • Ramones were early but didn’t get huge sales? I think?

      • Their success is similar to Velvet Underground-they did not sell a lot of albums, but everyone who bought one of their albums started a band. What is weird is the Ramones are bigger now than they ever were back in the day. I consider the Ramones punk vs new wave (an almost meaningless distinction).

      • I think I think of them as New wave because they’re American. Even though they made an album before most of the punk acts in England.

  3. I always thought of punk as harder, nastier, less musically sophisticated (Sex Pistols, etc.) and New Wave as having better musicianship but still having that punk edge (Elvis Costello, Police, etc.)

    • Agree with that distinction. What I always appreciated about the Clash was that they were punks and musicians. The Police were seriously skilled. I would put them in the same class as groups like Yes and King Crimson.

      • I think that part of the whole ethos of punk is “we are not skilled musicians” and so learning the instruments would have been antithetical to the “cause.” I think the Clash somewhat started out like that, but abandoned that idea and grew as players and songwriters. And the Police, yeah, they were already skilled when the formed. Stuart Copeland found Sting playing bass in a jazz band.

  4. I might have to give this a listen with new ears. I faded away after the first few albums. Not because I didn’t like them, just so much other music.around and CB is like a pig at a smorgasbord (especially with this spotify thing someone turned me onto.

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