Since September 2010, this blog has recorded the journey of this middle-aged man as I attempt to listen to all the music in my CD collection. CDs revisited in their entirety from start to finish - no skipping tracks, no shuffle. CDs only - no vinyl, no tapes, no downloads. And just as CD technology (and the album format itself) becomes obsolete. I'm no music critic, just a music junkie with too much time on my hands.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Police - Message In A Box: The Complete Recordings (1993)

E-yo-oh! A four-CD boxed set by The Police, containing all of their studio albums in chronological order, as well as singles, b-sides, and tracks from various compilation and soundtrack albums. Tracks span the years 1977-1986. I bought this to save me the trouble of buying the individual Police CDs. A bonus is the 68-page booklet that includes a band biography, time line, plenty of pics, and notes from the band. Full-on, geeked-up fans of the band will tell you that, contrary to the title, this set does not include the complete recordings because it lacks a special b-side live recording from a Japanese import or some such nonsense. While that may or may not be true, this is all the Police I need (more than enough at times). If you don't want to splurge on the box set, there are no fewer than 7(!) greatest hits compilation CDs available for this band. In 1995, the band released a live album of recordings from 1979 and 1983. I've never heard it.

I was a casual fan of the band until I purchased the Ghost In The Machine cassette. Of course, that was followed by Synchronicity which might have been the one album that was owned by everyone in my high school senior class. I went back and dubbed tape copies of the first 2 albums from my friends, then got Zenyatta Mondatta in one of those Columbia House 12 LP's for 1¢ scams. For the record, here's a list of my top 20 Police songs, in order:
  1. Every Little Thing She Does is Magic
  2. Don't Stand So Close to Me
  3. Message in a Bottle
  4. Roxanne
  5. Canary in a Coalmine
  6. Synchronicity II
  7. Walking on the Moon
  8. De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da
  9. Every Breath You Take
  10. When the World is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around
  11. One World (Not Three)
  12. On Any Other Day
  13. So Lonely
  14. Tea in the Sahara
  15. Murder by Numbers
  16. Side Two of Ghost in the Machine in toto
  17. Miss Gradenko
  18. O My God
  19. Be My Girl/Sally
  20. Invisible Sun 
Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #79  (Individual albums: Outlandos D'Amour #23, Reggatta De Blanc #25, Zenyatta Mondatta #5, Ghost In The Machine #2, Synchronicity #1 for 17 weeks in 1983)
Peak on Cash Box album chart: Outlandos D'Amour #23, Reggatta De Blanc #26, Zenyatta Mondatta #10, Ghost In The Machine #3, Synchronicity #1 for 18 consecutive weeks.

21 tracks, 1.2 hours

Disc 1 contains the band's first single, Fallout b/w Nothing Achieving, plus all the music from the 1978 album Outlandos d'Amour and half the music from the 1979 album Reggatta De Blanc, 2 b-sides, and live renditions of Landlord and Next to You.

Tracks: I'm a fan of the early hits here including Next To You, So Lonely, Message In A Bottle, Can't Stand Losing You, and Roxanne. Even though I've heard Roxanne what seems like a million times, I never get tired of hearing it. I always liked Be My Girl/Sally - in the early '80s, the spoken verse about an inflatable sex doll appealed to my deranged teenaged mind. Now my deranged mind is middle-aged and I still get a smile every time I hear that song. Other highlights include Peanuts and Bring On The Night. I could do without Dead End Job, Masoko Tanga, Landlord, and Reggatta De Blanc. The two live cuts (from 1979) are high-energy and strangely punkish, but nothing I'd put on my iPod.

21 tracks, 1.2 hours

Disc 2 contains the remaining 6 tracks from Reggatta De Blanc, two b-sides, a single-only release, and the entirety of 1980's Zenyatta Mondatta.

Tracks: From Reggatta De Blanc: this disc starts off with some good tracks, including Walking On The Moon, On Any Other Day, and The Bed's Too Big Without You. The skippable tracks are Contact and Does Everyone Stare. The b-sides and singles are forgettable or, in the case of a monaural version of The Bed's Too Big Without You, unnecessary.

The songs on Zenyatta Mondatta were either really good or really bad. There's not much middle ground. The highlights are Don't Stand So Close To Me, When the World is Running Down You Make the Best of What's Still Around, and the underrated Canary In A Coalmine. De Do Do Do De Da Da Da is good not because of Sting's baby talk lyrics, but because of Andy Summer's incredible guitar parts. Not as good are Voices Inside My Head, Behind My Camel, and Shadows In The Rain.

18 tracks, 1 hour

Disc 3 contains 4 b-sides, a live version of Driven To Tears, 1981's Ghost In The Machine, and 2 songs from the soundtrack album for the 1982 movie, Brimstone & Treacle.

Tracks: From the b-sides, the best is Low Life, but also good is A Sermon, which was the b-side to Don't Stand So Close To Me. Flexible Strategies is so bad, even the band hates it.

Ghost In The Machine is my favorite Police album. It's also their first album with a title that makes any sense. The cover art is great, the music is great, and it contains my all-time favorite Police song, Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic, which also scores a spot on my list of Top Ten Pop Singles of The Eighties. The only song I don't care for is Spirits In The Material World. Particularly on the later tracks, there's an overall dark, somber, moody, ethereal sound here as Sting started to use more keyboards and, unfortunately, try to lessen the importance of Andy Summers' guitar. I always think of side two (Too Much Information, Rehumanize Yourself, One World (Not Three), Ī©megaman, Secret Journey, and Darkness) as a suite of songs - it's not side two of Abbey Road, but what else is? The Police had always been a singles band, but here they became an album band.

The tracks from Brimstone & Treacle are instrumentals that sound like they were outtakes from Zenyatta Mondatta sessions. These led the way for Stewart Copeland's work with soundtracks. I had the LP of his soundtrack for the movie Rumble Fish and it wasn't bad at all.

18 tracks, 1.2 hours

Disc 4 contains 1983's Synchronicity, 3 b-sides, 3 live tracks, and a remake of Don't Stand So Close To Me that appeared on the group's 1986 greatest hits package.

Synchronicity is almost a greatest hits package in itself. While the music is upbeat, the lyrics are very dark. The only song I really want to skip is Mother, but I'm not a big fan of King of Pain. My favorite from the first listen has been Synchronicity II. Making a slow turn from rock to adult contemporary, the final tracks hint at what was to come on Sting's Dream Of The Blue Turtles.

The live versions here aren't much different than the studio versions except that Sting can't drown out Summers' dazzling guitar work with synths when they're in concert. Of the b-sides, Someone to Talk To is a good song and would have fit in well on Zenyatta Mondatta if Sting had sung it instead of Summers. Really, all the b-sides here could have been decent album filler which is unusual for b-sides.

Don't Stand So Close To Me '86 is decent because it's a well-written song, but this remake begs the question, "Why?" I'll stick with the nervous energy of the original.

Personal Memory Associated with these CDs: So many, it's hard to pick just one or two. I regret not seeing the band on tour in November 1983. Many, many of my friends traveled to Austin to see the show at the South Park Meadows. I have no idea why I didn't even ask my parents if I could go.

I bought Ghost In the Machine in the spring of 1982. That was a time in my life when I was struggling with my own identity (what I wanted vs. what was expected of me, etc). I guess most teenagers struggle with that at some point. Not to be overly melodramatic, but the music on that cassette helped me get through that time. By the time Synchronicity came out the following year, I had straightened myself out and was much happier.

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