Message In A Box – The Complete Recordings

 
 
 
album_messageinabox.jpg

Release date

September 30, 1993

Liner Notes

Released in 1993 this is almost 'The Complete Recordings', but not quite. A small number of officially released tracks are strangely omitted from this release - for example:

  • 'Truth Hits Everybody (Remix)' which appeared on the bonus single included as a limited edition in the UK gatefold release of 'Every Breath You Take'
  • 'Don't Stand So Close To Me (Live) which was the b-side to the 'Don't Stand So Close To Me '86' single.
  • 'Don't Stand So Close To Me '86 (Dance Mix)' which was a bonus track on the 'Don't Stand So Close To Me '86' 12" single.
 
 

Some consider that not all of the tracks released on the 'Brimstone & Treacle' soundtrack being included is another failing, but the three tracks credited to The Police are on this compilation. The remaining tracks were originally credited to Sting (i.e. 'Spread A Little Happiness', 'Only You') so their omission is easily accountable.


Tracklisting

Disc 1

  1. Fall Out
  2. Nothing Achieving
  3. Dead End Job
  4. Next to You
  5. So Lonely
  6. Roxanne
  7. Hole in My Life
  8. Peanuts
  9. Can't Stand Losing You
  10. Truth Hits Everybody
  11. Born in the 50s
  12. Be My Girl, Sally
  13. Masoko Tanga
  14. Landlord (live)
  15. Next to You (live)
  16. Landlord
  17. Message in a Bottle
  18. Reggatta de Blanc
  19. It's Alright For You
  20. Bring on the Night
  21. Deathwish
 

Disc 2

  1. Walking on the Moon
  2. On Any Other Day
  3. The Bed's Too Big Without You
  4. Contact
  5. Does Everyone Stare
  6. No Time This Time
  7. Visions of the Night
  8. The Bed's Too Big Without You (mono)
  9. Truth Hits Everybody (live)
  10. Friends
  11. Don't Stand So Close To Me
  12. Driven To Tears
  13. When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around
  14. Canary in a Coalmine
  15. Voices Inside My Head
  16. Bombs Away
  17. De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da
  18. Behind My Camel
  19. Man in a Suitcase
  20. Shadows in the Rain
  21. The Other Way of Stopping
 

Disc 3

  1. A Sermon
  2. Driven to Tears (live)
  3. Shambelle
  4. Spirits in the Material World
  5. Every Little Thing She Does is Magic
  6. Invisible Sun
  7. Hungry for You (J'aurais toujours faim de toi)
  8. Demolition Man
  9. Too Much Information
  10. Rehumanize Yourself
  11. One World (Not Three)
  12. Omegaman
  13. Secret Journey
  14. Darkness
  15. Flexible Strategies
  16. Low Life
  17. How Stupid Mr. Bates
  18. A Kind of Loving
 

Disc 4

  1. Synchroncity I
  2. Walking in Your Footsteps
  3. O My God
  4. Mother
  5. Miss Gradenko
  6. Synchronicity II
  7. Every Breath You Take
  8. King of Pain
  9. Wrapped Around Your Finger
  10. Tea in the Sahara
  11. Murder By Numbers
  12. Man in a Suitcase (live)
  13. Someone to Talk To
  14. Message in a Bottle (live)
  15. I Burn for You
  16. Once Upon a Daydream
  17. Tea in the Sahara (live)
  18. Don't Stand so Close to Me '86

 

Phew, what an amazing mass of magical music, the legacy of a band who soared across the late seventies and early eighties like a comet of energy and inspiration. It's fascinating to hear these classic cuts in chronological order, so we can trace the musical development of Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland. Who were these street urchins bashing out punk music on Fall Out and Dead End Job It certainly wasn't Andy on guitar on the first cut, but one Henri Padovani. The change of guitarist and Stewart's abrupt change of drum style on So Lonely heralded the classic era of The Police's development. The cuts from their 1978 Outlandos d'Amour showed all the characteristics that would combine to make the band both so commercially attractive and musically innovative. Just listen to the carefree confidence of Roxanne. Sting's casual laugh, Stewart's reggae drums grooving their own sweet way and Andy's simple rhythm guitar lines show how a rock band should be recorded - live! It's amazing to think back to the ludicrously vindictive reviews the band used to get from a confused and jealous music press at the time. Now they are no longer a threat but a sweet memory perhaps at last their output will be put into proper artistic perspective. Of course not everything they recorded was great. Indeed sometimes they could be very neurotic and repetitive. Sometimes Sting's vocals were strained to breaking point as he tried to hit those elusive high notes. But there was so much good stuff - so many great songs and a lot of ideas that set standards for years to come. Here is one boxed set well worth the investment!

- By Chris Welch

 

Reviews

Review from Q magazine by Ian Cranna

Touted as a "unique" collector's item, the reason for this four CD/cassette box set's existence is that it contains everything The Police ever released, digitally remastered from original masters where possible. Except it doesn't include the live version of 'Don't Stand So Close To Me' - the B-side to that very last single You know, the one listed in the discography in the box Good start, eh So, what exactly do you get for your £40 approx

Well, there's a nicely produced 60-page booklet with a succinct career summary by Q's Phil Sutcliffe (who first introduced Sting and Stewart Copeland). There's also said discography, with entertainingly candid comments by The Police on the rare and obscure tracks (and, more entertainingly, on each other). There are lots of photos (including one of Mick Jagger reviewing 'Fallout' for Sounds, though sadly his opinion is not recorded), plus notable dates in the margin and a list of what they've done since. Readable, useful and well worth having.

As for the music, you get the five albums, plus (almost) everything else The Police ever released as a group. (There are no foreign language versions either, but that's neither here nor there.) This means there's 25 non-album tracks here. These consist of (deep breath) the very first DIY single 'Fallout', the uncollected B-sides, seven live tracks - some of which appeared on various compilations and assorted oddments - a mono version of 'The Bed's Too Big Without You', three contributions to the 'Brimstone And Treacle' soundtrack (curiously, another track, 'Only You', is referred to in the booklet but doesn't appear), plus that final 'Don't Stand So Close To Me 1986' A-side. These are grouped throughout the running order (thus leaving the albums intact) and in chronological order except, for some reason, one of the 'Brimstone And Treacle' tracks.

But are they worth fans forking out for As far as the early speed-riff stuff goes, the answer is no. These really are for Police die-hards, while such offcuts as the quirky, sci-fi-inspired monologue 'Friends' (wrongly credited to Sting - good this, isn't it), the weak jam 'Flexible Strategies' or the instrumental 'A Kind Of Loving' featuring a woman's screams (from 'Brimstone And Treacle') really are for completists only. Then there's the odd nice track like Andy Summers's instrumental 'Shambelle', and by the time you get to later outtakes - 'Low Life', 'Murder By Numbers', 'Someone To Talk To' and 'Once Upon A Daydream' - the standard is really quite high. Considering some of the stuff that made it on to the actual albums, there's a pretty fair case to be made for issuing a separate LP of the best ones.

For most people, however, a Greatest Hits will do the job they want - collecting together all those great Police songs. If you're considering investing in a set of CDs of the Police albums (and they remain pretty patchy) then you might as well get the trimmings too, and this might even save you a few quid. As for those avid Police collectors who already own all this stuff, the nagging impression remains that rather more care and attention could have been put into this "unique" package.
 


Review from Record Collector magazine by Peter Doggett

Not every little thing they did was magic as Peter Doggett discovers on the four CD Police Retrospective: Gathering up someone's music into a lavish boxed set is a way of making them feel important, and reminding them their career is over. It's a marketing device, of course, designed to persuade die hard fans to fork out £30, £40 or even £50 for recordings that they probably already own. And it's the chance to concoct the definitive word on a career that mightn't have seemed that straightforward at the time.

With those basic aims out the way, boxed sets take two forms. There are the representative career overviews, whether they combine rare material with hits, like the epic Beach Boys and Elvis Presley releases of recent months, or concentrate solely on unissued material, like Bob Dylan's "Bootleg Series". And then there are those - like the Police's 'Message In A Box' - which sell themselves as 'The Complete Recordings'.

Claims like that are asking for trouble, especially when they appear alongside an official discography that lists at least one track (a live version of 'Don't Stand So Close To Me') which is conspicuous by its absence. Missing also is the faintest hint of any unissued recordings, whether they be early demos, peak period live tracks, or remakes from the abortive reunion of 1986, like the scrapped version of 'De Do Do Do'. Instead, A&M have pulled together all (but one) of the Police's official releases, from their indie debut on Miles Copeland's Illegal label in 1977 to their disastrous attempt to recreate 'Don't Stand So Close To Me' nine years later.

Why no demos or unissued studio masters It's tempting to assume that there simply aren't any, as the two dozen or so B-sides and other assorted rarities here suggest that the band very quickly came close to the bottom of the barrel. Listen to the dodgy guitar rambling of 'Flexible Strategies', for example, and then check out Stewart Copeland's explanation in the booklet: "Word came down from the marketing machine, 'Create a B-side - today'! We walked over to the gear, strapped on and played for 10 minutes. A disgrace." And it's not the only one.

Rather than exposing their genius, 'Message In A Box' actually emphasises how thin the Police's legacy is once you get past their stellar bunch of hit singles. Their five original albums spawned enough strong material, or at a pinch three. The early LPs were rushed onto the market at a time when the band admitted they hadn't got enough songs; the later offerings reflected the increasing three-way chasm at the heart of the band, as Copeland and Andy Summers reacted against Sting's increasing domination of the creative activities.

Where Summers tended to wander into proto-new age guitar explorations - a duet album with The Edge would send harmonics freaks into ecstasy - Stewart Copeland provided a much-needed dose of irony to the stew. His satirical offerings to 'Reggatta De Blanc', notably the lugubrious, third-album Velvets madness of 'Does Everyone Stare' were a welcome counterpoint to Sting's more thoughtful material.

What wasn't in question, though, was that it was Sting who was the band's commercial saviour. Yes, he was the man who introduced Arthur Koestler's dream and coincidence theories to rock'n'roll. But he also wrote the tight-locking riff for 'Message In A Bottle', the effervescent pop of 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic', the brooding idealism of Invisible Sun, and the menacing 'Every Breath You Take'. Without those to their credit, the Police would simply have been another early 80s arty-rock band with strange haircuts.

On those singles, and around a dozen album cuts - from the punk-fuelled raunch of 'Next To You' through the Brit-funk of 'Demolition Man' to the airy philosophical concepts of the 'Synchronicity' album - the Police sound like one of Britain's great rock bands. But that spirit is quickly deflated by throwaway B-sides like 'Flexible Strategies' and 'Shambelle', and the rather ragged performances on the live tracks. That matters less when they're bringing a little new-wave anger to Landlord and Next To You than it does when they're attempting to recreate the studio perfection of 'Man In A Suitcase' and 'Tea In The Sahara'. Apart from the amusement value of the pre-A&M punk tracks, the only 'rarity' that adds to the Police legend is 'Murder By Numbers', previously the B-side of 'Every Breath You Take'.

With the book-pack design of the set initially impressive but threatening soon to disintegrate, and the glossy booklet delivering less than it promises, there's only one major bonus in the packaging - and even that isn't carried all the way through. For some of the rarer tracks, comments have been elicited from the former band members, who invariably disagree about every minor point. But that's only 25% of the contents: if the same idea had been applied to every song on 'Message In A Box', the package would have been much more impressive. As it is, this four-CD set is only likely to appeal to hardcore fans. And they are exactly the people who will already have bought the individual Police albums on CD - and who probably own the 'rare' B-sides as well. They've been short-changed; while everyone else is better off with a single greatest hits set.
 


Review from Musicians Only magazine by Chris Welch

Phew, what an amazing mass of magical music, the legacy of a band who soared across the late seventies and early eighties like a comet of energy and inspiration. It's fascinating to hear these classic cuts in chronological order, so we can trace the musical development of Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland. Who were these street urchins bashing out punk music on 'Fall Out' and 'Dead End Job' It certainly wasn't Andy on guitar on the first cut, but one Henri Padovani. The change of guitarist and Stewart's abrupt change of drum style on So Lonely heralded the classic era of The Police's development. The cuts from their 1978 'Outlandos d'Amour' showed all the characteristics that would combine to make the band both so commercially attractive and musically innovative. Just listen to the carefree confidence of 'Roxanne'. Sting's casual laugh, Stewart's reggae drums grooving their own sweet way and Andy's simple rhythm guitar lines show how a rock band should be recorded - live! It's amazing to think back to the ludicrously vindictive reviews the band used to get from a confused and jealous music press at the time. Now they are no longer a threat but a sweet memory perhaps at last their output will be put into proper artistic perspective. Of course not everything they recorded was great. Indeed sometimes they could be very neurotic and repetitive. Sometimes Sting's vocals were strained to breaking point as he tried to hit those elusive high notes. But there was so much good stuff - so many great songs and a lot of ideas that set standards for years to come. Here is one boxed set well worth the investment!
 


Review from The Times by Robert Sandall

It is easy to see why The Police had such success, but it wasn't then. With the 20:20 vision of hindsight the enormous success and enduring popularity of The Police seem almost inevitable. They had songs that still stick in the mind like toffee in your teeth. All three of them were wolfishly good looking and, in performance, they were supreme. None of their peers in the rock world at the time ever rivalled The Police's canny harnessing of energy and expertise. Nobody except Michael Jackson worked a more potent commercial magic either. The band sold 50m albums world-wide during their nine years together, and have shifted at least another 10m since they formally split up in 1986. Whether the world actually needs this new four CD boxed set, titled 'Message In A Box', priced at £40 and containing every track The Police ever released is perhaps questionable: that it will sell substantial quantities, even in the fiercely competitive Christmas album market is not.

Flashback some 16 years though to the dawn of punk and the birth of the only punk inspired band destined for superstardom, and The Police looked almost uniquely ill equipped for survival. Originally they were cuckoos in the punk nest. When The Police started gigging in the spring of 1977, supporting a truly sleazy punk icon called Cherry Vanilla, they transgressed every important article of the new code. In defiance of the time, they were all overtly proficient instrumentalists having played for years in a variety of jazz and progressive rock bands. While the punks howled about the evils of American imperialism, and how intolerable it was that rock music had become the domain of the middle-aged, The Police boasted a clean-cut American drummer, Stewart Copeland, whose father had helped to set up the CIA, and a guitarist called Andy Summers, who was, at 35, six months older than Mick Jagger. The great punk motto was Be Yourself: there were several reasons for suspecting that this trio of bottle blondes with the spiky haircuts, and narrow trouser bottoms were being nothing of the sort.

Today the former chief of The Police, Sting, is quite happy to own up "The only real connection I had with punk was that I, too, had been locked out of the record companies. I'd been turned down by every big label in the country and I felt the same sort of anger and aggressive energy against the record business as the punks. I could play thrashing music and did for a while, but I didn't like punk music all that much. Most of it was drivel."

Luckily for Sting and his musicianly partners, punk was not the only music playing in fashionable rock circles in 1977. Following a triumphal visit from Bob Marley the preceding summer, reggae had become cool too. Copeland and Sting were both ardent Marley fans, and out of this they began to fashion a new hybrid. "I don't think we ever played reggae to be honest. If you listen to 'Roxanne', for example, it's a tango; the rhythmic emphasis is on the second beat of the bar. The lilt of my singing was definitely influenced by Marley, but what we played wasn't reggae. What we liked was that sense of space. The band motto was 'less is more'. Because we were a three-piece we would leave a lot of space in the arrangements, so that when we did all play together, it would suddenly sound much bigger."

This neat sonic deception certainly appealed to a global audience in a way that none of the other, noisier New Wave acts did. The Police swiftly learned to ignore domestic fads, critics, record companies, infact everybody except the paying customer. While other punk bands became increasingly bogged in wheedling cash and contracts out of the big labels, The Police became an autonomous touring unit.

Their first record deal hardly merited the name. Signed to A&M in 1978, The Police were picked up chiefly because they shared a manager with Squeeze. They were required to supply one single, at their own expense, and with no advance on royalties. "From day one we never received any money up front from the company. We only got royalties which was great, because we never ended up with the sort of feudal relationship with our label that most groups have. We asked or nothing. We just said, 'Put out our records and promote them'."

A lot of this last job they undertook themselves, through touring. The Police were tireless road dogs. They ploughed back and forth across Britain and Europe. In the autumn of 1978, before they'd had a proper hit at home, they flew to America on Freddie Laker's budget Skytrain and played 23 club dates in 27 days, humping their own amps. "For me touring was and still is the backbone of a career. I haven't stopped in fifteen years. It gives a band an identity that is more than just an image. There's a real bond between the people who tour."

In the case of The Police, those bonds, though close, were never exactly friendly. Sting and Copeland fought - engaging in hand to hand combat at times - about everything. Whose songs they should play was a permanent source of conflict. When Sting says that "the songs kind of elected themselves" and giggles, you sense that these elections might not have been strictly democratic. "Well, you must remember that I was the singer and I had been writing songs for years. Andy and Stew hadn't. They were having to grow up as songwriters in public and I thought that didn't really work." He's right, and this is the main reason why The Police worked best as a singles band. There was always too much filler and track selection by the "Buggin's turn" principle on their albums. The weakest songs on this boxed set usually turn out to have been written by Summers, whose attempts at humour always fall flat, or Copeland, who never graduated far beyond those punkish guitar thrashes the band played in its infancy.

The other big disputed territory was the pacing of their material. "Stewart and I had very different ideas about where the tempo should be. I prefer to play slower, Stewart likes to play fast, and you can hear that tension in every song."

Surprisingly, given it's bright and bouncy feel, the majority of The Police's output was recorded in a mood of intense mutual loathing. By the time they came to make their third album 'Zenyatta Mondatta' "my least favourite album", according to Sting - the strain was beginning to show. Their style had matured - the sticking out reggae references had been submerged into a more complex rhythms stew, but the magic had gone. Their harmonies could still summon the ghost of the Beach Boys at will, but some of the solo vocals, particularly on 'De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da', were pretty ragged. "We had just come off tour. We had six weeks to record the album before we went back on the road. We were stuck in this studio in Holland, it was raining all the time, and we couldn't stand each other. We'd lived in each other's pockets for four years, our marriages were breaking up. That really was the beginning of the end for the Police." Like the true pros they were though, they managed another two albums after 'Zenyatta'. Their last, 1983's 'Synchronicity', proved to be their biggest seller. Though he says he decided before the recording that this was to be their last - "the tension was unbearable and my health was suffering" - Sting thinks it is their best album.

Nobody outside noticed a thing. At this time, The Police dominated the world stage like no other rock band. They simply had no serious competition. With MTV just coming on stream, The Police's experience at filming promo clips to deputise for their frequent absences on Top Of The Pops gave them a huge head start in conquering America. "Meanwhile. The old bands had been swept away by the punk thing," Sting recalls. "They'd lost their confidence and their audience just vanished. And none of the other new bands were able to play the stadiums."

It was in August 1984, after they had just played to 70,000 fans at Shea Stadium in New York, scene of The Beatles' old triumph, that The Police decide to call halt. "We knew that all we could do from then on was repeat the same thing with diminishing returns. The band had peaked. And I felt for the sake of legend we should stop.". After two more years of wrangles and aborted recording sessions, they did.

Sting has not listened to this new boxed set, and has no plans to do so. "I'm too busy thinking about what I'm going to do next. But I'm very proud of The Police. The thing that amazes me now is that we were so deadly certain we were going to make it, when nobody else agreed. And I really don't know where that confidence came from."