November 2, 1978
- Next to You
- So Lonely
- Hole in My Life
- Can't Stand Losing You
- Truth Hits Everybody
- Born in the 50s
- Be My Girl, Sally
- Masoko Tanga
The roots of Outlandos d'Amour were laid in early 1978 when The Police checked into Surrey Sound Studios to record a few tracks. "Our first album was recorded on second-hand multitrack tape - at that time, we couldn't afford our own tape," said Sting. "We were working in a home-made studio in Leatherhead belonging to Nigel Gray, a doctor whose hobby was recording. There were egg boxes on the walls, a sure sign of the home enthusiast. The room was tiny and the noise you hear at the start of 'Roxanne' was me falling backwards and accidentally sitting on the piano and then laughing.
"We recorded a few tracks, one of which I wrote more or less as a throwaway. That was 'Roxanne', I didn't think much more about it until we played the album to Miles Copeland who is, of course, Stewart's brother and a bit of an entrepreneur, though he'd never been particularly interested in The Police. In fact, he'd kept away from it to say the least. He did come along to the sessions while we were putting the first album together but more or less just to offer brotherly advice to Stewart. He heard the album and quite liked it. When we got to Roxanne, we were a bit embarrassed because the song was a bit of an anachronism, because compared with our usual material it was slow, quiet and melodic. Far from saying he thought it was a piece of shit, he said it was amazing. I thought, 'He likes this song This is fantastic!"'
The next day, Miles secured a deal to release the track as a single and this in turn led to a full record contract. Sting was delighted, because he liked the song and "It was a total off-shoot from what we'd been doing and it was immediately recognised by a record company as being commercial. That was the turning point for The Police - that and Andy joining, which enabled us to do more sophisticated material," he told Melody Maker.
Recorded in chunks over a six month period, Outlandos was released in November 1978 and featured at least three classic Police songs (four if you count the thrash of 'Next To You') in the shape of 'Roxanne', 'Can't Stand Losing You' and 'So Lonely' each of which were released and re-released as singles. Whilst 1978 may have been the era of late punk The Police's debut was an album that was truly different from what was the then mainstream. There was nothing on the airwaves like 'Roxanne'. Sting recalled that "It stuck out like a sore thumb on the radio when it came out because there was nothing else like it around." Sadly, the BBC slapped a ban on the track due to its prostitution theme, and the single stalled before it could make the top 30.
The album was particularly well received in the States with the Los Angeles Times describing it as 'the most inviting mainstream rock debut since the Cars' LP last summer' and persistent no-frills gigging around the country meant that within six months, the band had built up a sufficiently strong following to play the 3000 seater Santa Monica Civic Theater. When the band returned for a headlining tour of the UK in Spring 1979, the re-released 'Roxanne' had made the top 20, and the Police had become a force to be reckoned with. They were on their way.
"Our first album as the Police was recorded piecemeal in a run-down studio above a dairy in Leatherhead. We had been together as a band for roughly a year by then. Some of the songs had been written for my previous band, Last Exit, and adapted for the new one. Others had been completed while touring, and some were created during rehearsals or while recording. We weren't signed to a record company yet, and none of us had any money, so we used some second-hand tapes that we found in our manager's garage and recorded very late at night, for an even cheaper studio rate: moonlighting only after another band had left. We'd work until the coffee ran out and we were bleary-eyed and delirious with exhaustion and the absurdity of our arguments.
"I'd drive back to London in my old Citroen in a kind of euphoria, with these tunes thundering in my head, yelling improvised lyrics at the top of my voice to the empty road and the stars twinkling sceptically above the rooftops. I'd get back to my flat in Bayswater just as the sun was coming up through the trees in Hyde Park, thinking that these were some of the best days and weeks of my life. I'd try to scribble down whatever I'd been declaiming in the car and then go to sleep for the rest of the morning. The afternoon would be spent trying to make sense of these fragments and working on them until the early evening so that I would have something presentable that night. I was happy because I'd dreamed about this, this making of an album, for as long as I'd owned a guitar, strummed my first chord, and rhymed my first couplet. It was almost too much to absorb. There's no grand concept at work in this album, just a loose collection of dreams, fragments and fantasies, low doggerel and high dudgeon, sense and nonsense, anger and romance, all welded together by the bluff and bluster of a new band. We were insane in our optimism, and we were never happier."
"We went into the studio and recorded an album for ourselves and took 'Roxanne' from it for a single. A&M Records picked up 'Roxanne', which was a critical success in England but a commercial flop because the BBC wouldn't play it due to the subject matter. But A&M was keen enough to give us a second chance at a single, C'an't Stand Losing You', which was actually a hit; it made the Top 40. So A&M released our album and it also started to move up the charts."
Good Times, 5/79
"I hope people don't think of us as a pious band who capitalise on a political situation. I don't think a pop song is a good medium for a deep political message. Actually, politics is a source of conflict in the band; we argue a lot (about its role). I'm all in favour of politics in a song, but my main area of work is still pop tunes about loneliness, isolation, frustrated love - teenage days. Like the Beatles wrote. The Beatles are the prime inspiration for any group. They inspire step one; they make you grab a tennis racquet and stand in front of a mirror. Songs are a good medium for any message that is simple and sometimes that message can be political, like 'Born In The '50s' or 'Landlord' which didn't make the album."
Good Times, 5/79
"Joe Sinclair's contribution was much different than that. What he did was, while we were playing 'Hole in My Life', he came into the studio and danced. I thought that was a large enough contribution to say thanks. As for the reggae, it is a West Indian subculture in England, so it is a more natural part of our music that it would be here. For me, Bob Marley was the link. Roxanne has a real Bob Marley feel. He's half-white, so he's sort of a cultural go-between, a cornerstone. Once you get past Marley, you can listen to the rest of reggae and understand it more clearly. We're all into reggae. Stewart, our drummer, was once the tour manager for Joan Armatrading, who is West Indian. I'm hoping that we can help in bringing reggae or Jamaican music to the States."
Good Times, 5/79
"The songs on 'Outlandos' were all me, me, me. I feel so lonely, 'Roxanne', I won't share you with another boy, I was born in the 50's."
Message In A Box Liner Notes, '93
"I don't listen to the album now. I'd probably be analysing it and thinking how I'd do it differently now. Or could I do it better. Perhaps not."
Review from Mojo by Mark Blake
It's difficult to comprehend how much The Police polarised opinion in the late '70s. Vilified in the music press for being punk bandwagon jumpers, their chart ubiquity left other musicians bewildered. "Tell me, what do you think of The Police?" growled Keith Richards of one interviewer at the time.
The kids, real kids, that is understood, making 'Outlandos d'Amour' a number 6 hit. Any 12-year-old discovering rock music neither knew not cared that Police guitarist Andy Summers had once been in Zoot Money's Big Roll Band. Or even what Zoot Money was. No group took punk rock, sweetened it and sold it back to the masses as well as The Police.
Despite the members' Dead Sea Scroll-like CVs, 'Outlandos' has the spark of all great debuts. In The Police's case. less youthful naivety, more the spark of excitement shared by perennial also-rans who've stumbled on a winning formula: here, punk seasoned with reggae and pure pop. You know they're slumming it, but the Ramones-lite riff of 'Next To You' is still believable, while 'Roxanne', 'Can't Stand Losing You' and 'So Lonely' demonstrate Sting's wily command of hit single writing. Elsewhere, 'Hole In My Life' and the closing jazz workout 'Masoko Tanga' allow virtuoso playing and musical one-upmanship into the mix.
No-one should ever be subjected to 'Born In The '50s' (Summers was actually born in 1942) or 'Be My Girl - Sally', the guitarist's spoken-word ode to a blow-up sex doll, ever again. But the good still outweighs the bad, or even merely average.
After two more albums in a similar vein, The Police mutated into the worthy rock band everyone knew they were, before quitting while still ahead. By then a legion of 2-Tone bands had been and gone, brining reggae even further into the pop mainstream, and acts as philosophically removed as Robert Plant and - gulp! - Rush had pilfered some of The Police's style. 'Outlandos d'Amour' proves that it was fun while it lasted.
Review from Mojo by John Harris
Recorded at Surrey Sound in glamorous Leatherhead ("a cruddy, funky place with egg cartons on the wall), and built around a triptych of glorious singles: 'Roxanne', 'So Lonely', and perhaps best of all, the jaw-sropping gonzo suicide piece 'Can't Stand Losing You'. Two thirds of the stuff here is surrounded by the curious sense of seasoned musicians affecting to embrace the crudities of punk while clinging fast to their technical proficiency. Just listen to 'Next To You', 'Peanuts', 'Truth Hits Everybody' and the would-be generational anthem 'Born In The '50s': superfically hard and fast, but sprinkled with pointy-headed chords, shades of FM rock and Sting's innate pop aesthetics. 'Hole In My Life', meanwhile, cerebrally waves a decisive goodbye to the sulphate-snorting hordes by embracing an angular kind of jazz-rock - shades here of Sting's pre-Police project Last Exit and Copeland's spell with Curved Air - so tricky that Summers supposedly had trouble mastering the guitar part. By way of bathos, there's the larksome Summers-Sting co-write 'Be My Girl - Sally': a sex-doll comedy which amounts to Roxy Music's similarly inflato-centric 'In Every Dream Home A Heartache', only with art-schoolism replaced by proto-Viz tomfoolery.
Review from Sounds by Phil Sutcliffe
It will probably come as a surprise to most people who saw them during their early months last year, but The Police have finally come up with a distinctive and mostly enjoyable first album. They began rather like the Vibrators, older musicians inspired by the energy of punk. Their initial efforts to peel away the sophistication from their hard earned skills were fairly uncomfortable and founders Stuart Copeland (drums, from Curved Air) and Sting (bass/vocals. from Newcastle jazz-soul band Last Exit) were hampered by the deficiencies of their first guitarist Henry Padovani.
They began to come to terms with the practice of the theory when another seasoned performer, Andy Summers, replaced Henry. Briefly they thought about becoming Strontium 90, a startling two bass quartet with Mike Howlett from Gong as the extra man. I saw them deliver one of 77's most exhilarating sets one-off at the Gong Reunion in Paris, but I gather the creative directions became too diverse (I'm not sure if that means they had a row). The Police trio then consolidated and began working towards 'Outlandos d'Amour', with only a slight detour for Klark Kent's double six roll of the dice, passing Go and no doubt collecting rather more than Ã‚Â£300.
All of which I realise is not an album review, but is relevant to the end-product, one of the more fascinating fusions to be added to the new music stockpile recently. Sticking to that most basic line-up they have not been tempted to 'compensate' by extravagant use of their considerable techniques (Andy Summers once played the Mike Oldfield part in a concert version of 'Tubular Bells' so you can imagine what he's capable of). Instead they have chosen to emphasise starkness and tension, taking the bare framework of punk or reggae as their starting point. So Summers, who can freak out with the best of them, spends most of his time punching quietly vicious rhythm chords while Copeland, who is very good at being busy and loud, concentrates on subtle variations drawing in percussion, synthi-drums and dub 'zaps'.
After that whether you like The Police or not is down to singer Sting who, apart from his other chores, wrote all the songs too. His voice is unusual, high and strained. I love it, though I'd accept that it may be an acquired taste. In this set there's none of the tender romance of some of his pre-Police writing but there is a tougher kind of passion in the last single, 'Roxanne', and one of the songs they played on the 'Whistle Test', 'I Can't Stand Losing You'.
That's the sort of material which will make their name if it's going to be made though the last two tracks on the album show how experimental they are now prepared to be. 'Be My Girl - Sally' features a custom-built Sting chorus with the banked vocals he swings in elsewhere on the hooklines book-ending a spoken monologue by Andy Summers relating to the tale of a love affair with one of those blow-up dolls. It reminds me of Stackridge, it's very odd and it works. Then 'Masoko Tanga' picks up on the 'Sally' outro of weird moans and squeals to launch some bubbling Afro rock with lead line on bass and more dub production.
Not all of the album is so striking. I have the feeling that they tightened up to an excessive optimum of discipline and then didn't quite let go enough to present themselves to the full. That maybe leads to excessive repetition and rather ponderous arrangements on 'Hole In My Life' and 'Born In The 50s'. But even if Sting doesn't become a star through his substantial role in 'Quadrophenia' these guys have got ideas and a future.
Review from Billboard
Produced by the Police, There's a lot to listen to in this 10 cut debut from one of the new wave's more listenable trios, including the reggae-tinged lead cut, 'Roxanne', which deals with prostitution in a poignant way. The music is straight forward rock for the most part, with low key melodies supporting strong lyrics and a definite beat. A band to watch. Best cuts: 'Roxanne', 'Born In The 50's', 'Can't Stand Losing You', 'So Lonely'. Dealers: Pitch to Cars' fans and new wave aficiandoes.
Review from Circus by David Fricke
This is an auspicious debut for a British new wave band that, for once, eschews the heated discussion of social ills for hook-laden tunes stripped to fighting rock & roll trim. Despite the peroxide punk look of the album cover, the three-piece Police specialise only in power-dricen pop with a message no more subversive - attention, American radio - than "follow the bouncing, belligerent beat."
The LPs initial barrage of 'Next To You', 'So Lonely', and the year's darkest horse so far, 'Roxanne', immediately sets the Police apart from punk's imitative pack. The crisply chorded guitar of Andy Summers (a latter-day Animal and ex-Kevin Coyne) plays a cagey game of tag with nagging chorus lines that are no worse for singing bass guitarist Sting's limited vocal range. Yankee drummer Stewart Copeland maintains no-nonsense syncopation at all times (the Ramone-drone drive of 'Peanuts' and goosestepping funaholic march of 'Hole In My Life'), displaying as well a workable mastery of the reggae rhythms liberally dosed throughout the album.
The band's overall sound is refreshingly spare, uncrowded by anarchic distortion and often heightened by the deft touches of dub punctuating 'Can't Stand Losing You' and - to a great extent - 'Roxanne'. The album's bare-boned production can work against them when the song falls short, as on the merely passable 'Truth Hits Everybody' and the 'Be My Girl/Sally' medley.
Review from the New Musical Express by Paul Morley
The Police comprise motley mercenaries Stewart Copeland (ex Curved Air), a decisive drummer, Andy Summers (ex Kevin Ayers and Kevin Coyne), a distinctive guitarist (which isn't bad) and Sting, dishy model, actor and diffident bassist, a natural but dutiful singer and a tame but negative composer.
These three plain lads are a self styled loud hard rock group. They are in punk visual butch clobber, fond of rippling neo-reggae structures (as on their current minor hit, 'Can't Stand Losing You', included here with their previous single 'Roxanne') and not averse to a bit of bop.
They're competent and detached craftsmen, hard working at staving off the army. The albums ten well designed songs are neat but strained, and tend to run into each other. This tendency could be a plus.
Actually, as a trio, The Police achieve as much 'dynamic' energy as The Clash and the same 'poetic' intensity as The Jam, even if they are twice as studied. Image (age and attitude etc) ultimately detracts from The Police's commercial potential. Without the trappings of The Clash and The Jam, without the comedy of The Revillos and The Rats or the forced idiosyncracies of the XTC animal, they seem bare. But on the merely musical levels that such product is appreciated, they have just as much with which to lightly enthral.
Or just as little, depending where you're sat. The Police have no ambition and too much complacency. They're not alone. Neither am I.
Review from High Times by 'Spy Smasher'
Rock 'n' Roll Police: Don't let the band's name put you off - these guys would never show up with a search warrant and bust you for possession. The Police are really a fun, inventive, playful, sometimes nice, sometimes, nasty, socially conscious punk-reggae combo. They're just three guys who have paid their dues: lead guitarist Andy Summers played for Kevin Ayers; drummer Stewart Copeland played for Curved Air, the Damned and Klark Kent; and lead vocalist/bass player Sting, who rapes Sex Pistol Steve Cook in drag in the Pistols' upcoming movie "The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle" and plays Ace, leader of the Mods, in the Who's soon-to-be-released flick Quadrophenia. The Police toured Europe with Cherry Vanilla and Wayne County before releasing this explosive debut album.
'Outlandos d'Amour' includes reggae love songs with heartbreak lyrics of utter simplicity ('Next to You', 'So Lonely', 'Hole in My Life' and 'Can't Stand Losing You'). The rest of the cuts are incisive social satire. Peanuts, which sounds like the Kinks until Summers's Hendrixesque psychedelic guitar break, is about the price of fame. Sting sings in his spine-tingling falsetto about fans and gossip mags who "want to hear about the drugs you're taking... [and] the love you're making." 'Born in the '50s' is about the generation who grew up worrying, "Would they drop the bomb on us while we make love on the beach"
'Roxanne', which was a hit single before the album was released, is about a guy whose girl friend is a hooker, and 'Be My Girl - Sally' is about a guy whose girl friend is an inflatable rubber doll ("When I'm feeling naughty, I blow her full of air"). Throughout the album, Copeland's drumming steals the show with its majestic power and precision - which is appropriate, because the beat is the meat of reggae and rock'n'roll. The Police are an arresting new band.
Review from Rip It Up by Terence Hogan
The lead off track on this debut album is a fairly ordinary piece of rock'n'rave called 'Next To You' that might have been done by anyone. We don't hear what these Police have really got up their sleeves until further along that same groove wherein lie 'So Lonely' and the following track 'Roxanne', which will already be familiar to some of you hep-cats out there.
These two songs are the best examples on the record of the distinctive blend of reggae feel into a white rock style that gives the album its special interest. It doesn't occur on all of the tracks but the three or four on which it's employed are significantly the highlights. This is the second record I've discovered this week by white artists that successfully draws on reggae as a major influence in its best music, the other being Johnny G's excellent first album on Beggars Banquet. In both cases the reggae is an essential element fully integrated into the performers styles - inventive and personal, and not merely a mode-ish appendage to their repertoire.
The lead singer's name is Sting, and for a little while I had the nagging feeling that he was reminding me of Jon Anderson, but suddenly I realised that he was more like Speedy Keen and I felt much better. There's a couple of duds here, as I said 'Next To You' is not a favourite and 'Be My Girl - Sally' wears thin quickly, but 'So Lonely', 'Can't Stand Losing You' and the very fine 'Roxanne' are delights.
Sounds like a good band.
Review from Rolling Stone by Tom Carson
On the Police's debut album 'Outlandos d'Amour', lead vocalist/bassist Sting sings in a sleight-of-hand variety of styles: there's a little of Ray Davies on the love songs, some Jamaican patois trotted out for the reggae cuts, a bit of Roger Daltrey's phlegm-that-swallowed-Kansas howling for a big rabble-rouser like 'Born In The 50's'. Sting sounds like a guy who's just made sergeant and is looking for a voice to back up his new stripes.
His band, too, offers a little something for everyone. If the flexible, jazz-influenced flourishes of drummer Stewart Copeland, a reggae beat and guitarist Andy Summers' finely honed attentiveness to nuance lend the Police, a stylish art-rock elegance, their music still sounds unpolished and sometimes means enough to let them pass for part-time members of the New Wave - even though it's brand of New Wave sufficiently watered down to allow these guys to become today's AOR darlings. And yet their hybrid of influences has been fused into a streamlined, scrappy style, held together by the kind of knotty, economical hooks that make a song stick out on the radio. Musically, 'Outlandos'd'Amour' has a convincing unity and drive.
It's on the emotional level that it all seems somewhat hollow. Posing as a punk, Sting, as both singer and songwriter, can't resist turning everything into an art-rock game. He's so archly superior to the material that he fails to invest it with much feeling. Deft and rhythmically forceful though they are, the songs work only as posh collections of catch phrases ("Can't stand losing you", or "Truth hits everybody") thrown out at random to grab your attention: lyrical hooks to punch up musical hooks, with nothing behind them.
By trying to have it both ways - posturing as cool art-rockers and heavy, meaningful New Wavers at the same time - the Police merely adulterate the meanings of each. Their punk pose is no more than a manipulative come-on. For all its surface threat, there's no danger in this music, none of the spontaneity or passion of punk (and reggae) demands. Even when Sting says "There's a hole in my life," he can't convince us it's keeping him up at nights - we know it's just another conceit. And the larger the implied emotions, the tinnier he makes them sound. A gimmicky anthem manufactured out of whole cloth, 'Born In The 50's' reaches for Who-style generational myth making (down to its ringing, Pete Townshend-like guitar line), but Sting can't make us see that there's anything special about his generation, because he knows there really isn't.