Tag Archives: The Police

Rocks In The Attic #703: Split Enz – ‘True Colours’ (1980)

RITA#703Every country has their local heroes, the ones who are winners back home but never even compete overseas. A third of the WTF With Marc Maron podcast is frequented by American comedians nobody has heard of outside the United States. There are bands in London that don’t translate well outside the capital, let alone across its country’s borders.

It’s the Wakanda Curse. Some artists just struggle to get noticed through the cultural cloaking device that prevents other countries from taking them seriously. Black Panther could have been kicking arse for decades, but nobody noticed. His solo material just wasn’t up to snuff.

New Zealand has its fair share of parochial examples. There are comedians, such as the 7 Days crew, who don’t dare gig internationally. Better to roll out the same tired jokes on TV, week in, week out, than be faced with the fact that, compared to international comics, they’re just not very good. They must really shit themselves when the International Comedy Festival hits the country. But hang on, half of the ‘international’ comedians that come over here are just as unwanted in their native countries, like a really shit student-exchange programme where your homestay parents don’t understand any of your cultural references.

And New Zealand music? The most successful band on a global stage seems to be Crowded House, and even they seem to have been appropriated by the Australians. First pavlova, then our middle-of-the-road rock bands!

The problem is that most Kiwis don’t ever leave our shores, so they don’t know any different. They probably think Dave Dobbyn is a mainstay of British and American singles charts. The Nature’s Best collection is a great retrospective of New Zealand anthems, but nobody’s singing these songs past our passport control point.

And shame on you if you do succeed internationally. Lorde? Aldous Harding? How dare you play overseas festivals! How dare you play Later With Jools Holland. This isn’t good old fashioned Kiwi music. It doesn’t sound anything like that one song by Dragon, or Hello Sailor’s horrific cod-reggae song.

Split Enz are a great band though, and deserve way more worldwide recognition than they got. This, their fifth studio album, is widely regarded as their first commercial success. File next to the Police, Blondie and Talking Heads.

Hit: I Got You

Hidden Gem: The Choral Sea

Advertisements

Rocks In The Attic #510: The Police – ‘Zenyatta Mondatta’ (1980)

RITA#510Album number three finds the Police starting to repeat themselves after the white heat of Regatta de Blanc. The big chart-slaying singles are still there, represented here by Don’t Stand So Close To Me and De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da, but the title of that second single betrays a lack of innovation throughout the record.

It’s all perfectly honed, finely crafted pop music, but there’s something missing. The artistic leap between debut album Outlandos d’Amour and their sophomore record seems a thing of the past, and here they seem to churn out more of the same rather than exploring new ideas.

I recently saw the Andy Summers documentary Can’t Stand Losing You: Surviving The Police (2012). It wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen before, being a fairly history of the band intercut with their reunion shows in 2007-2008, and narrated by Summers reading from his awesome 2006 One Train Later biography, but it was entertaining enough.

The film spends a bit of time explaining how the band were really under pressure to record this album in a short period of time, and you can hear it, particularly in the album’s tired last couple of songs.

The recording sessions would also mark the first time that cracks would appear in the edifice of the band – Sting refused to play on Summers’ instrumental Behind My Camel, and even resorted to burying the tapes of the song in the garden of the recording studio in Holland. Summers had the last laugh of course, when the song went on to win the Best Rock Instrumental at the Grammy’s the following year.

I love many of Sting’s Police lyrics, but Don’t Stand So Close To Me features one of my favourites. It’s rare that a pop song will name-check a literary classic, but Sting drops a mention of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita in the final verse – one of my favourite novels.

Hit: Don’t Stand So Close To Me

Hidden Gem: Voices In My Head

Rocks In The Attic #343: The Police – ‘Regatta de Blanc’ (1979)

RITA#343Good old white reggae, as the album title tries to tell us. I love the Police, but as much as I love the first album, it’s this album where they’re untouchable – one step closer to being the biggest band in the world. There’s an air of effortlessness about it all. For most bands, a song like Regatta de Blanc would be a demo recording, just a scrap of an idea – mostly instrumental with some indication of where the lyrics might go. In the Police’s hands, it’s turned into a fully realised song; one that would go on to win them a Grammy, no less.

There’s a great edition of Rock Goes To College, showing the band touring their first album in the UK. Their set is notable for including the first live performance of Message In A Bottle, before anybody in the audience had heard it – a standout, if not just for the fact that it’s my favourite Police song. Bloody hard to play on the guitar, impossible to sing in Sting’s vocal range, I love its final image of a solitary castaway – alone, but with a hundred billion other castaways.

Unfortunately there are hints of things to come on Regatta de Blanc too. Bring On The Night sounds like Sting making his first tentative steps towards his coffee-shop world music future. There’s traces of it on The Bed’s Too Big Without You too – middle-class poetry, all red wine and dinner parties. If I strain my ears, I can almost hear the yuppy conversations over some third-world cuisine.

On a lighter note, I’ve just done a frantic, white reggae dance to closing song No Time This Time for my one-year old. She thought it was the funniest thing in the world.

Hit: Message In A Bottle

Hidden Gem: Regatta de Blanc

Rocks In The Attic #215: Simon & Garfunkel – ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ (1970)

RITA#215I prefer Bookends, but as a piece of work I’m very confident this is the pinnacle of Simon & Garfunkel’s achievements. It’s their Abbey Road, and who knows what they would have gone on to do throughout the ‘70s if this hadn’t been their swan song. I’ve heard it said that this album sounds ‘effortless’, and that’s a very good word to describe it. Paul Simon makes these eleven songs sound like they’re falling out of him, and they’re put across with very little in the way of fuss.

In the space of just a couple of years, the pair progressed from a folk duo, into a folk-rock duo, and finally arrived at this album which traverses a number of different musical styles. You can hear elements of Paul Simon’s future solo career in some of the more world-music sounding songs – in the same way (but not as nearly as foreboding) as you can hear Sting’s impending solo warblings in the last couple of Police records.

There’s a nice house across the creek from my house – it’s mustard coloured and looks very Frank Lloyd Wright-esque. It’s a house to aspire to and I’ll always think of it when I hear the Simon & Garfunkel track at the end of side one.

Hit: Bridge Over Troubled Water

Hidden Gem: The Only Living Boy In New York

Rocks In The Attic #180: Bob Dylan – ‘Greatest Hits’ (1966)

RITA#180I was listening to Neil Young the other day, and suddenly realised that I’m much more in tune with Young’s brand of folk music. It’s not that I hate Dylan – I’ve recently become a convert (to his earlier material at least) – but his music seems completely devoid of humour. I’m sure if I took the time to decipher some of his lyrics, I’d find plenty of humour, but I really don’t have the time.

Neil Young, in comparison, comes across as more of a dangerous entity – all vague traces of threat and darkness. I sometimes wonder if North America got it wrong putting Dylan into the (unwanted) position as spokesman for the generation – perhaps they should have searched further North, over the border.

I’ve written before about my inability to remember (and in many cases, hear) lyrics. For me the music is far more important – regardless of how much credit is accorded to a songwriter purely for the words written down on paper. I find it much more satisfying to listen out for hidden things in the music – like the fact that Clapton is playing the melody of Blue Moon in the guitar solo of Sunshine Of Your Love, or the way Andy Summers strums chords to symbolise crashing waves in the post-chorus ‘breaks’ of The Police’s Message In A Bottle. This beats a handful of vague verses involving tambourines or the blowing wind any day.

Hit: Blowin’ In The Wind

Hidden Gem: She Belongs To Me

Rocks In The Attic #167: The Police – ‘Every Breath You Take: The Singles’ (1986)

I love The Police. They seem to drift in and out of ‘hipness’ and I fear at the time of writing that they’re incredibly unhip to listen to. Fuck it.

The best bands around are always the ones where nobody in the group is expendable. Lots of drummers and bass players (and guitarists even) are so interchangeable that it almost seems wrong to refer to them as a band. Sometimes they’re only in a band out of being in the right place at the right time, maybe they don’t aggravate the creative force/s in the band, or they simply are talented by association (The Jacksons, The Wilsons, etc). The members of The Police on the other hand are so expert in their instruments that if you removed any one of them out of the equation, they wouldn’t sound like The Police any more.

I have to say I love their first two albums the most, the third is still pretty good, but then they start going down the path of sounding like a Sting solo album. When I hear a song like Tea In The Sahara, I really have a problem believing that Andy Summers or Stewart Copeland had any input whatsoever.

I really love the cover of the single for Can’t Stand Losing You – truly a fantastic image for a great song, and proof that bands really don’t put that level of input into their single releases any more.

Hit: Roxanne

Hidden Gem: Can’t Stand Losing You