Jung rascals

The Police go undercover
By JOYCE MILLMAN  |  July 25, 2007

This article originally appeared in the June 28, 1983 issue of the Boston Phoenix.

Oh, the curse of the beautiful blonde: empty until proven intelligent. Even in pop, blonds get misunderstood. So Sting of the Police spends long hours in musty libraries, seeking the obscure theory, the tony literary reference, constructing a defense. What to say when billions hear your voice?  Hookers in red dresses are no longer enough. De do do do won’t do. Let’s see—he’s already glossed that book by Nabokov; nope, did Koestler last time. Sting perseveres, with stiff upper cheekbones, pumping gray matter; his intellectual honor is at stake. Synchronicity (A&M), the Police’s fifth album, is named after Carl Jung’s principle of “meaningful coincidence”— simultaneous, discrete events (usually one mental, one physical) that, taken together, have significance (of course, any two events taken together can be puzzled over until a connection appears, but then, Sting has always been a mystical sort — his next movie is Frank Herbert’s Dune).

The Police aspire to be the pop band for our time; and now, aheroic, low-profile, following musical whims with no design grander than a vague progressivism, they’ve reached their goal. It’s easy to forget that the Police are a supergroup. But would a record company print 36 different album covers for any old bums?  No, these guys are honest-to-goodness stars of stage, screen, turntable, bedroom wall, MTV, and football stadium. This is not to suggest that the Police haven’t sweated for their place in the end zone. Back in 1978, their survival in London’s new wave — and their penetration of the US’s provincial rock mainstream — depended on the poster-size identities they created from a bottle of Clairol and a few sing-along day-o’s. The Police were genuine reggae aficionados with a missionary streak (we’re talking about two Englishmen and the son of a CIA operative); they wanted to make polite discontent and slightly adventurous rhythms staples of white-rock radio. But they underestimated their audience’s appetites. Soon, new-wave fans in the US — broken in by the Police among others — grew restless. The Clash had arrived, with their revolution-rock reggae and appalling lack of dental hygiene, and suddenly the idea of three pretty boys with bleached-blond hair and good manners endlessly rewriting “The Banana Boat Song” seemed so . . . reactionary. Fortunately for the Police, they knew when it was time to shift from the cult-pleasing eccentricity of their first two albums, Outlandos D’Amour (1978) and Reggatta De Blanc (1979), to crowd-pleasing accommodation. In 1980, they conquered the world airwaves with the poppish Zenyatta Mondatta, which yielded them their first Top 40 hits, “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” and the unfortunate “Do Do Do Do De Da Da Da” (you know, the number in which Sting rhymes “escapes me” with “rapes me”).

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