Papa don’t allow no fluffy pickin’ here
This article originally appeared in the April 17, 1979 issue of the Boston Phoenix.
By the third song of the Police’s opening set last week, Boston — and what a great rock ’n’ roll town it was — had been mentioned five times, and I was beginning to hope that someone would haul these guys off to the pokey. When a band continually falls back on so obvious a crowd-pleasing device, it usually means that the group is exhausted, nervous or full of itself. All of the above, in the Police’s case. Not that they don’t have every reason to feel grateful — Boston, after all, anticipated the rest of the country by almost six months by making “Roxanne” a juke box and FM hit while it was still an import. But the Police couldn’t leave it at that. By set’s end, “Sting” — the band’s bass player, vocalist, and primary songwriter — couldn’t replace a broken string without telling us that he had a “brand new A-string for Boston.” As my daddy used to say, in every glad hand lies a billy club. He also used to warn me about rock ‘n’ roll bands that call themselves the Police.
Whatever you want to call the current wave of British bands — third wave, new new wave, wave-it-all-goodbye — the Police are among its most prominent members. Like Dire Straits, they have broken in this country with a far more resounding splash than any of their immediate predecessors (with the possible exception of Elvis Costello). The reasons are as obvious as they are disheartening: the Police are stylistically ambiguous enough to be all things to all people. When the Police played CBGB’s and the Rat six months ago, I had friends who couldn’t agree whether or not they were poseurs. After seeing the band at the Bottom Line and the Paradise, they couldn’t agree whether the band had found its natural niche or had sold out. The music hadn’t changed appreciably in six months, only the trappings. And as always in rock ‘n’ roll, trappings make all the difference. The Police recognize this as well as any band, having cashed in on their new wave affiliations as much as on their affinity for the well-rounded hook. Sting’s penchant for reggae beats and pinched, nasal reggae singing, guitarist Andy Summer’s ability to turn a power chord into art-rock droplets, and the whoosh of the band’s high harmonies give the Police what Vogue might describe as the “gypsy look.” In contrast, the band dresses, uh, down: a drummer in bright green running shorts; a guitarist in high-riding pink Levi’s; and a leader who offsets his lithe beachboy good looks with a gray-green mechanic’s jumpsuit. If anything, the Police cover their bets.
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