June 1, 1983
- Synchronicity I
- Walking in Your Footsteps
- O My God
- Miss Gradenko
- Synchronicity II
- Every Breath You Take
- King of Pain
- Wrapped Around Your Finger
- Tea in the Sahara
- Murder by Numbers
Like it's predecessor, 'Ghost In The Machine', the 'Synchronicity' album was recorded on Montserrat although writing for the album started as early as 1982 when Sting was staying in Jamaica. The band gathered on Montserrat in December 1982 along with producer Hugh Padgham they each brought their own songs.
It was important to Sting, that 'Synchronicity' sounded different. "There were a lot of clone groups who sounded like us coming up, so it was important that we didn't manufacture the kind of album where we all played our favourite licks. I felt the songs I wrote were different, so the playing had to be different," he said.
So the multi-layered sound of the previous album was stripped away and made more minimal. "I ultimately thought it sounded better that way. I can remove things without feeling threatened. I think it's my function to vanish behind the handiwork, in a sense, and just let it stand on its own," was how Sting saw it. "I think we'd become so refined as a group of musicians that we realised that the three instruments just playing solo and ensemble was perhaps the best way of doing it - and it just seemed to happen. The songs worked with three instruments. There were lots of overdubs, but the overall feel was spartan."
So what about the songs Well, as a starting point how about 'Every Breath You Take', now one of the most played records ever This track has two faces - one of surveillance and creepy observation the other of hopeless devotion - and to this day it amuses Sting that people choose this song for their wedding - "It's a very sinister song, but it's seductively dressed up." 'Wrapped Around Your Finger' was another spiteful song wrapped in a sugar coat, 'Synchronicity II' was as fine a piece of rock as the band ever recorded and 'Tea In The Sahara' was beautifully atmospheric. 'King of Pain's' vibrant imagery is set to a simple piano riff and 'O My God' had its genesis back in songs dating from Sting's days in Last Exit.
The album of course was huge. It simply went to the top of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic and just stayed there - 8 weeks in the UK and in the US where a huge stadium studio helped consolidate its position, for an incredible 17 weeks. But the success had its downside. Looking out from the stage of Shea Stadium at an audience of 70,000 people Sting realised that "It doesn't get any better than this we should really stop". Seven months later, the band played their final concert in Australia and went their separate ways. The Police had the courage to say goodbye at the very peak of their commercial and artistic abilities. In these days of big money reunion tours hardly a week goes by without a rumours surfacing that the Police are getting back together, but they've had the strength of character to resist and consequently their legend remains intact.
"This was our final studio album. I wrote a lot of these songs in Golden Eye, Ian Fleming's old home on the north shore of Jamaica. Britain had gone to war with Argentina over the Falklands. Young men were dying in the freezing waters of the South Atlantic, while I was gazing at sunspots on a clifftop overlooking the Caribbean. During this time I read Arthur Koestler, whose work in turn led me to Carl Jung. The title of the album refers to Jung's concept of meaningful coincidence. 'Synchronicity' was recorded on the island of Montserrat in 1983."
"There was a book published called "Synchronicity" which is about the meaningfulness of apparent coincidences - is there any meaning in coincidence. And that's what I wanted this record to be about. It's a grand design, but I'm not sure if it come off or not. The concept interested me in that it was about accidents and some of the greatest things that happen in music with a band are accidental, or apparently accidental. Two members of the same band will hit the same chord, or the music will shift to an area that you both agree on for some inexplicable reason and you'll find yourself on the same wavelength. It's like within the parameters of the music there are lots of accidents and lots of things ricocheting off each other."
"In The Studio" Radio Show
"I think these lyrics are the best I've ever done. And, yes, it's been a year of hell and torture for me... And I know that without that torture and without that pain - without that awfulness - those lyrics wouldn't have been as good. So in a sense I'm very suspicious of myself. I wonder if I manufacture pain in order to create. Without being overly sentimental or indulgent. I have to say that, to me, the opportunity to express pain is the greatest... I don't really feel like telling anymore. I think I said it succinctly in the lyrics in a way that's meaningful and not overindulgent. To go over them now, well, it overstates it. I just want to say that if there's a feeling of sadness in any of the songs, it's genuine. That's all I want to say."
On what he and Andy thought about Sting's musical ideas for the album, and whether they had to agree with his lyrics...
"Yes, we only had one singer in the group and we respected the singer's right to choose what he says and sings. It's very important - it's not fair to make somebody sing words... we took ourselves seriously as being honest musicians which was very honourable but actually put limitations on Andy and I because we had to write songs that expressed Sting's emotions. And Sting and I have very, very different views of the world - very different politics, very different values. The things that I would express in a song are things that he would never even talk about. The conclusions I draw about life are very different to the conclusions that he draws, and so it was always a problem for me to write songs for him because I would have to try and get into his mind, and make his... speech, which is not a real thing. So it was best when I'd write instrumentals - that would work best. Fortunately, I didn't have that problem. I could play drums on a song whether I agreed with the lyric or not, it wasn't a big hassle for me. And I didn't disagree with the ideas that he expressed in his songs. We would disagree violently in prose. Infact a classic thing was where sitting around a coffee table arguing politics I'd hammer him into the ground and leave him speechless. He'd go away, the next day he'd come back with a song and he'd have a three word line such as "Russians love their children too" which would flatten me, blow me out of the water. Now if we argued about that, 'I have this reason what was fallacious about that' and 'this is misleading, how can you say this when'.. and all this stuff and he wouldn't have any answers. He's not actually very good at arguing in prose, but he can go away and in the privacy of his composition room, reduce the whole issue down to three words and blow any logical argument out of the water."
Stewart Copeland: "In The Studio" Radio Show
On why the recording sessions were in different rooms...
"In my case, it's because there is nothing worse than hearing a bass through a set of headphones. Basically, it sounds like a frog farting. I play much better when the sound coming out of the instrument is rich and warm. If we played together like that in the same room, we wouldn't be able to hear anything except the drum, because the guitarist has to have a lot of volume to hit a certain level of distortion or passion or emotion. I play in the studio next to the engineer so I can hear the instruments balanced and mixed roughly as they'll sound on the record. Andy couldn't be in the control room with me because of the guitar noise. We have the drums in the kitchen at Montserrat because they sound best there."
"The theory that the 'Synchronicity' album is entirely a function of Sting getting divorced is a gross oversimplification, and naive. Pain wasn't a new idea to me last year. But to have a creative outlet for feelings that would normally be ground up and internalised and reformed - you feel cauterised. Some of the things on that record are quite sinister and angry and twisted."
"I felt very strongly that this album should say to the world that we are individuals. We are not joined at the hip; we are not a three-headed Hydra. We were very much thrown together by accident and we're very distinguished by strong egos. And we each have our own contributions to make. That was brought out on the album cover, where my idea was for each of us to have a separate strip and have the freedom to photographically do whatever we as individuals wanted, without knowing what the other two planned. I'll just find out when the album comes out. Hopefully, it'll be synchronistic."
'Synchronicity' is really more autobiographical. It's about my mental breakdown and the putting back together of that personality. I'd hope that once I am mended my ideas would be more objective. I'm in a strange situation. When I was a schoolteacher, or on the dole, I wrote a lot of songs and I felt that I was writing for the man next to me in the dole queue. And now because I'm who I am I lead a rarefied kind of life that's unique to me and a few other people and the man in the street won't be interested in what I want to tell him. I write from experience, but it's not one that'll ring bells anywhere else. The 'on the road' songs have all been done, so... I write about my own psychological state hoping that someone will sympathise. It's weird, as a writer, which I primarily regard myself as."
"'Synchronicity' was a very personal statement for me, as opposed to a personal statement for the band. And the band was riding on the crest of a wave, but the music, the subjects were very personal to me... this was almost, and I'm trying to say this in a way that doesn't insult the other members of the band because I couldn't have done it without them - they're fantastic and I respect them - but this was almost a solo record in the sense that the subject matter was very personal to me. And I couldn't really share it. When I sat down with the band and discussed what we were going to tackle this was all I could write. 'Every Breath You Take', 'Wrapped Around Your Finger' were all about my life. And so that was the end of the Police because I realised that I couldn't involve this kind of personal work in a democratic process, at least not about the issues. So it was very clear to me during the making of this record this was the end of the Police. I didn't decide to do anything about it until after we'd played Shea Stadium. Shea Stadium was kind of the apex of what we'd set out to do. We played this huge historic stadium, we were the biggest band in the land, biggest record, biggest single - it doesn't get any better than this. All you can hope to do is keep repeating it. We all went back that night - we had a house in Long Island, all of us, with our families and we sat round, put the fire on, and we'd just had this huge triumph, and I turned to Andy and said 'It doesn't get any better than this we should really stop'. And surprisingly to me, Andy said 'Yeah, you're right, it can only go down from here.'
"In The Studio" Radio Show
On the choice of title...
"It coincides with my reading at the moment. You can substitute symbolist for synchronicity in the title song. The man's anxiety and aggression are symbolised by an event in a lake somewhere far away, without any causal connection between the two. That's synchronicity, drawing that analogy. In a sense, it's creating it because there are times in everyone's life when something you encounter becomes a symbol for your state of mind. Like in 'King Of Pain', where I conjured up symbols of pain and related them to my soul. A black spot on the sun struck me as being a very painful image, and I felt that was my soul up there on the sun. It's just projecting your state into the world of symbolism, which is what poetry's all about, really."
"It was important that this album be different. There were a lot of clone groups who sounded like us coming up, so it was important that we didn't manufacture the kind of album where we all played our favourite licks. I felt the songs I wrote were different, so the playing had to be different. So if you don't recognise the Copeland sound. I think that's a good thing for all of us, because the reason he's such a good drummer is that he's fresh, he's original, he's spontaneous and he takes risks."
On 'Synchronicity' being more minimal than 'Ghost In The Machine'...
"I ultimately thought it sounded better that way. There's no need for me to say, I've got to be on this track so people will know I can play keyboards! I've got so much ego massage now that...enough, enough. enough! So I can remove things without feeling threatened. I think it's my function to vanish behind the handiwork, in a sense, and just let it stand on its own. Look, I need some applause and feedback, but not "Isn't he a genius!"
"The title of the album refers to coincidence and things being connected without there being a logical link. For instance, in the title cut there's a domestic situation where there's a man who's on the edge of paranoia, and as his paranoia increases, a monster takes shape in a Scottish lake, the monster being a symbol for the man's anxiety. That's a synchronistic situation. They're not connected logically, but symbolically and emotionally they are. There's a song called 'King of Pain', which is a series of analogous statements about the soul: "There's a little black spot on the sun today / That's my soul up there... / There's a dead salmon in a waterfall... / There's a butterfly trapped in a spider's web." They're all images of entrapment and pain. The single, 'Every Breath You Take', is a very sad song and it makes me sad, but it's a wonderful sadness. It was written at a time of awful personal anguish, and it was a great catharsis for me to write that song."
Rolling Stone, 9/83
On what his 'strip' on the cover of the album says about him...
"I don't know. Actually, I haven't thought about this. It was all involved with skeletons; the skeleton of a dinosaur... It was done subconsciously. My idea was that each member of the band would just go out and be photographed in an environment that he chose and that the three things would somehow relate, and they actually did. I guess mine was concerned with extinction."
International Musician, '85
"My marriage had broken up by and I sat at the desk where Ian Fleming had written the James Bond books and wrote 'Every Breath You Take' and 'King Of Pain' and 'Wrapped Around Your Finger'. That really helped me. It was a healing process."
"I think we'd become so refined as a group of musicians that we realised that the three instruments just playing solo and ensemble was perhaps the best way of doing it - and it just seemed to happen. The songs worked with three instruments. There were lots of overdubs, but the overall feel was spartan."
Rolling Stone, 3/84
"'Synchronicity' went through all kinds of horrendous cogs and gears to come out, emotionally and technically, the way it did. My feeling before we made the album was that we had to change our sound, because there were a lot of clone groups who sounded a bit like us. That's flattering in a way, but I thought we should try to sound a little different, so we pared away the things people have come to expect in our music. Reggae, for instance, is more buried in the undercurrent of the music than it might have been in the past. I think this is a more refined record than we've previously made."
Rolling Stone, 9/83
"We were allowed to grow as a group and grow in stature in a very natural way, so by the time we released this album, we were ready to sell 5 million albums. I would imagine the next LP would be exponentially bigger than that. It's a case of statistical certainty. But I also think this is our best album, which I hope is the main reason."
Rolling Stone, 3/84
On the success of 'Synchronicity'...
"I think there is a golden moment in a career when, very naturally, you put your finger out in front of you and you automatically touch the pulse of a lot of people. Like a kind of collective pulse. And you feel that, you feel your connection with it and therefore what you do, very naturally, is connect with it through your music and so you keep writing while you have your finger on this pulse. It's a very happy feeling - it's like the height of your popularity, you know that you do is going to connect in a very big way with a large group of people, and while that period lasts - and it can't last for ever - everything you touch turns this way. I don't feel so much connected to that now. I feel connected on a deeper level than the pulse. I feel connected to maybe less people but at a deeper level. But at the time, at the height of the Police's popularity we were connected to a mass conciousness if you like, a feeling - you can't intellectualise it - it's just a feeling and it reflects in record sales and stuff. So yeah, there is a moment when you think 'Oh, so that's what making it is'. You feel connected, you don't feel like your outside anymore, you are in fact the centre of something. You feel very much part of the web of communication."
"In The Studio" Radio Show
"The whole album was recorded in an unbelievably bad atmosphere. We hated each others guts, and we had no respect for each other. Actually, I did, but I just felt like a piece of shit."
Stewart Copeland: Revolver, 4/00
Review from The Sydney Morning Herald by Henry Everingham
The Police is a band for whom I have held little regard in the past. Originally, they were the stars of a bubble gum commercial.
Then, two years ago, The Police released a fourth album which borrowed its title from Arthur Koestler's popular tome 'The Ghost In The Machine'. The principal songwriter and front person Sting proclaimed that we were nothing more but spirits in a material world and made a plea for all to rehumanise. Thus began their ascent from the teeny-bopper category.
Not only is 'Synchronicity' The Police's best album, but it is probably one of the most socially relevant records in recent years. In his lyrics, Sting has abandoned the typical ephemeral subjects that pervade rock music, and quite ably tackled such institutions as marriage and religion. It is not a happy album. The familiar Jamaican rhythms are still prevalent and Stewart Copeland provides varying drum beats that could get cats dancing, but it's all to no avail. The lyrics on 'Synchronicity' describe honestly the bleakness of the world - our preoccupation with doom, our abandonment of love, the general lack of faith.
The album opens with 'Synchronicity I' and 'Walking In Your Footsteps'. Like the former's namesake, both are odes to deja vu, the latter predicting the fate of modern times to that of prehistory's.
The two tracks, 'Mother' and 'Miss Gradenko', are quite out of context with the rest of the album. I suspect they appear only as a gesture to the 'De Doo Dah Dah' legion of fans. The final track on side one is 'Synchronicity II', the most astute song Sting has written. The bitterness of the lyrics is chased along by some of the tightest music that The Police have recorded. Where Bob Dylan used a locomotive as an image of good coming to mankind's rescue in his song 'Slow Train Coming', 'Synchronicity II' foresees impending doom in the shape of an avenging Loch Ness monster.
Side two is a more personal collection of songs. It Opens with the current single 'Every Breath You Take', a rather plodding tune with a basic theme of jealousy. The next two tracks, 'King Of Pain' and 'Wrapped Around Your Finger', are a couple of extraordinary love songs.
'Synchronicity' closes with 'Tea In The Sahara', a somewhat surrealistic tale of two children who, craving for tea in the desert, are conned by a man who leaves them stranded with their tea cups full of sand. It leaves a puzzling end to a most interesting album. The "thought" Police have arrived.
Review from The Guardian by Robin Denselow
For a band rumoured to dislike each other, to be past their peak and on the verge of breaking up, The Police aren't doing too badly. Their new single, the dreadfully simple but dreadfully catchy 'Every Breath You Take', has cruised effortlessly to No.1, and as the band prepare for the start of yet another world tour next month, they've released a fifth album that mixes a few more infuriatingly simple songs with some aggressive and original songs.
'Synchronicity' doesn't take the headlong rush into electronics implied by the title, but it does show The Police playing around even more than usual with guitar synthesisers and other effects. The opening title track, a high, tinkling piece that sounds as if it is being played at the wrong speed, is one of the less happy examples. Elsewhere there are unusual wailing guitar effects from Andy Summers (who comes over particularly well on this album), and the band manage to sound far bigger than a 3-piece, and far more interesting than when they play live.
Once again, Sting uses the songs to tackle some weighty metaphysical topics, and some delightful lyrics result. His more simple songs include 'Walking In Your Footsteps', 'King Of Pain', and 'Wrapped Around Your Finger' (in which The Police return to their old-style white reggae approach), but the album is saved by 'O My God', a startling mixture of impassioned vocals and guitar effects, the bleakly tuneful 'Synchronicity II', and the final wailing, witty 'Tea In the Sahara'.
The drummer, Stewart Copeland, adds one track, which sounds like something from Andy Summer's recordings with Robert Fripp, while the one Summers track, 'Mother', is a revelation. Based on the idea that "every girl I go out with becomes my mother in the end," it's a part-spoof, part-manic track that shows The Police shouldn't be written off quite yet.
Review from Relix magazine by Robert Santelli
After listening to 'Synchronicity' for the first time, it becomes quite clear that the Police do not intend to stand idle or wallow in former glories, Whether it's because Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers feel threatened by the host of new bands desperately trying to imitate their immensely successful sound, or because they're fearful of, God forbid, being categorized by the rock press, 'Synchronicity' is yet another dimension of the Police we've never heard before, And even though the album is wiry and fragmentary at times, and so personally emotional that some of the songs actually come too close, 'Synchronicity' is a wonderfully brilliant record.
'Every Breath You Take' might possess the mildest melody on the album and therefore is a wise choice as the LP's single, but its haunting lyrics reveal much of the gut-wrenching anxiety Sting has apparently endured since the break
up of his marriage to actress Frances Tomelty. The song's clever simplicity and spiny hook coupled with Sting's near perfect vocals makes the tune a natural hit But it's hardly representative of the album as a whole. Side one tears away at any preconceptions the listener might have because of 'Every Breath You Take'. 'Synchronicity I' is as close as the Police have ever flirted with musical anarchy: nothing seems to fit as each musician drains himself with relentless pokes and punches that ultimately ends in a KO. 'Walking In Your Footsteps' is Sting's warning to the world of the evils of nuclear warfare, and even if the lyrics are a tad disappointing, the melody isn't. 'Oh My God' squirms and twists before succumbing to 'Mother', written by guitarist Andy Summers and 'Miss Gradenko', by drummer Stewart Copeland. Neither tune can match any of Sting's compositions either in style or output, but their inclusion here helps make the LP more balanced and democratic. 'Synchronicity' completes the madness of 'Synchronicity I' and it's on to side two.
First up is 'Every Breath You Take' followed by 'King of Pain', an excellent song that never ceases to challenge the listener, 'Wrapped Around Your Finger' and 'Tea in the Sahara', both of which dutifully remind us why the Police and Sting, in particular, are the best things that have happened to rock since the Sex Pistols. The songs are surreal and delicate, illuminating and even a bit amusing, and they never fall to disregard the noble conventions of what a good pop tune is all about.
Review from People
One way to make music in a high-tech age is to use instruments that are products of the age - synthesisers, for instance - to generate rhythms that are as un varying as the quartz oscillators in the latest digital watches. That's what such so-called techno-pop bands as Human League have been doing. The Police, on the other hand, avoid a robotic effect by keeping a readily identifiable guitar sound and rawing from a variety of rhythmic influences. At the same time, the blending of bassist Sting's bright, keeing vocals with guitarist Andy Summers' billowing fills and gleaming, fine-edged accents suggests an up-to-the-minute intimacy with microworld aesthetics. 'Synchronicity', the group's fifth album, is highlighted by the gently romantic 'Tea In The Sahara', 'King Of Pain', with its alternately monastic and cathartic moods, and 'Synchronicity II', an aggressive, steely pieve that uses a longer melodic line than usual in Police songs. The wild card in the set is 'Mother', by Summers (Sting writes most of the songs). Sounding more like Captain Beefheart than the Police, it's a blackly humorous portrait of a poor shlep who needs only to hear the phone ring to start ranting. Why? Every time he picks up the receiver dear old Mom is there.
Review from New Musical Express magazine by Richard Cook
The Police are much like Gods to their pop universe, not only in their worship rating but in their omnipotent attitude to their work. They operate without any lead to earth or deference to schedules. It somehow has no relevance that 'Synchronicity' appears two years after 'Ghost In The Machine' and after one year of public absence: its assumptions are such that they might never have been away. Like Bowie, Sting has the ability to orientate this world to his own pace.
'Every Breath You Take' is a Number One that jolts a chart full of counterfeit sophistication with an injection of the real thing. The sinister flavour of the lyric, professing an obsessive love hooked up to a devouring domination, is one of Sting's long suits; the vaguely threatening undertow of the sound is another.
When the golden archangel voice suddenly soars, polished by the finest recording money can buy, it's as if brilliant floodlights have been turned onto a moody, malevolent little song. The communion between darkness and light in pop music has its supreme incarnation in The Police.
Though Sting has worked on that for a long time it wasn't until 'Ghost In The Machine' that it came good. The opening salvo of 'Spirits In The Material World', 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' and 'Invisible Sun' was the most ambitious and expansive music they had made, at once concentrated and inquiringly diverse; but from there the record turned in on itself until it wound up desiccated. When you compared the bottom-heavy chug of The Police's 'Demolition Man' with Grace Jones' version - which sounded like cold steel ripping the skin off pulpy flesh - you wondered it Sting's group were misleading their chief.
Synchronicity sets them right without bonding them closer. Although it magnifies the differences between Sting and Summers and Copeland it also evolves the group into a unique state: a mega-band playing off glittering experimentation against the sounding board of a giant audience. It's the record of a group coming apart and corning together, a widescreen drama with a fascination at a molecular level. Some of the music fuses intuitive pop genius with wilfully dense orchestration so powerfully it stuns. It is occasionally sensational.
The effusive gallop of 'Synchronicity I' sets the first tone, a revision of 'Message In A Bottle' dynamics to sweep aside the cobwebs of inactivity. If the song is about as meaningless as its title, a mere galvanising exercise, the following 'Walking In Your Footsteps' focuses the character of the LP: a fresh response to being wealthy global citizens in a world on the brink of termination. Or, how to reconcile the lush streamlining of technology with the simple sandals of liberalism.
'Ghost In The Machine' hit that note with particular cunning - the pop polemic against "our so-called leaders" and "government charts" in pleasurably digestible form. Sting's jungle fatigues may not have been any more convincing than Strummer's urban guerilla outfits but they appeared a sight more classy. 'Walking In Your Footsteps' is more of the same minus the obvious sloganeering: man's atomic armoury, ready to duplicate the dinosaur's course. Yet the music has a startling inner energy The Police are new to.
As 'Synchronicity' progresses it further dawns that Sting is using his unremittingly public life to retreat into a private propriety. There is something personal about 'Oh My God' and 'Every Breath You Take' that lonely chest-beating like 'Message In A Bottle' was never privy to. And in 'King Of Pain' Sting enters a realm he never dared before.
'King Of Pain' guys his image while simultaneously dismantling the mythic conceptions that hold it together. "There's a king on a throne with his eyes torn out/there's a blind man looking for a shadow of doubt/There's a rich man sleeping on a golden bed/There's a skeleton choking on a crust of bread" ...and as the privileged minstrel to this court of lunacy. Sting is a King Of Pain. That he sites this intriguing meditation in a sumptuous pop melody and sings it multi-tracked voices of chill purity is no more than a skilled writer/performer fulfilling his dues, but that he does it at all is remarkable.
The ambiguities persist in 'Wrapped Around Your Finger', a naif's trip to Costello country aswirl with luxurious harmonies. The record seems to grow more sensual and multi-faceted as it progresses, and it fittingly closes with 'Tea In The Sahara' - overtones of another apocalypse wedded to an atmosphere that is gold leaf and quartz gleam. The Police have always been good with air and space - remember the chiming distances of 'Walking On The Moon' - and this is a fruitful visiting of those talents.
It's an engaging collection. Summers and Copeland have their own desultory moments on the first side - the guitarist's 'Mother' is a foolish Psycho scenario set to obvious programmatic music, and Copeland's 'Miss Gradenko' follows as a throwaway interlude - but it's their proficiency players that keeps them afloat. 'Synchronicity' is all big, vibrant, complex sound performed with great clarity, even grace. If it is Sting's record it still requires their expertise.
It is also nearly inscrutable. While his companions look guileless on the sleeve. Sling's eyes are secretly murderous. He smiles with a mouth that looks like it's about to bite the head off a baby doll. There are five songs that suggest he is working out a perplexed and vexed persona through his pop music, and the result is fascinating. But while the monolithic and hollow grandeur of 'Let's Dance' is trounced by 'Synchronicity', this record implies that Sting will grow as chameleonic as the other white demi-god of pop. A performer of greatness taking veiled risks. A record of real passion that is impossible to truly decipher.
Review from Rolling Stone magazine by Stephen Holden
'Synchronicity' is a work of dazzling surfaces and glacial shadows. Sunny pop melodies echo with ominous sound effects. Pithy verses deal with doomsday. A battery of rhythms - pop, reggae, and African - lead a safari into a physical and spiritual desert, to 'Tea In The Sahara'. 'Synchronicity', the Police's fifth and finest album, is about things ending - the world in peril, the failure of personal relationships and marriage, the death of God.
Throughout the LP, these ideas reflect upon one another in echoing, overlapping voices and instruments as the safari shifts between England's industrial flatlands and Africa. "If we share this nightmare / Then we can dream," Sting announces in the title cut, a jangling collage of metallic guitar, percussion and voices that artfully conjures the clamour of the world.
Though the Police started out as straightforward pop-reggae enthusiasts, they have by now so thoroughly assimilated the latter that all that remains are different varieties of reggae-style syncopation. The Police and co-producer Hugh Padgham have transformed the ethereal sounds of Jamaican dub into shivering, self-contained atmospheres. Even more than on the hauntingly ambient 'Ghost In The Machine', each cut on 'Synchronicity' is not simply a song but a miniature, discreet soundtrack.
'Synchronicity's' big surprise, however is the explosive and bitter passion of Sting's newest songs. Before this LP, his global pessimism was countered by a streak of pop romanticism. Such songs as 'De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da' and 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' stood out like glowing gems, safely sealed off from Sting's darker reflections. On 'Synchronicity', vestiges of that romanticism remain, but only in the melodies. In the lyrics, paranoia, cynicism and excruciating loneliness run rampant.
The cuts on 'Synchronicity' are sequenced like Chinese boxes, the focus narrowing from the global to the local to the personal. But every box contains the ashes of betrayal. 'Walking In Your Footsteps', a children's tune sung in a third-world accent and brightly illustrated with African percussion and flute, contemplates nothing less than humanity's nuclear suicide. "Hey Mr Dinosaur, you really couldn't ask for more / you were God's favourite creature but you didn't have a future," Sting calls out before adding, "We're walking in your footsteps."
In 'O My God', Sting drops his third-world mannerisms to voice a desperate plea for help to a distant deity: "Take the space between us, and fill it up , fill it up, fill it up! This "space" is evoked in an eerie, sprinting dub-rock style, with Sting addressing not only God but also a woman and the people of the world, begging for what he clearly feels is an impossible reconciliation.
The mood of cosmic anxiety is interrupted by two songs written by other members of the band. Guitarist Andy Summers' corrosively funny 'Mother' inverts John Lennon's romantic maternal attachment into a grim dadaist joke. Stewart Copeland's 'Miss Gradenko', a novelty about the secretarial paranoia in the Kremlin, is memorable mainly for Summer's modal twanging between the verses.
The rest of the album belongs to Sting. 'Synchronicity II' refracts the clanging chaos of 'Synchronicity I' into a brutal slice of industrial-suburban life, intercut with images of the Loch Ness monster rising from the slime like an avenging demon. But as the focus narrows from the global to the personal on side two, the music becomes more delicate - even as the mood turns from suspicion to desperation to cynicism in 'Every Breath You Take', 'King Of Pain' and 'Wrapped Around Your Finger', a triptych of songs about the end of a marriage, presumably Sting's own. As the narrator of 'Every Breath You Take' tracks his lover's tiniest movements like a detective, then breaks down and pleads for love, the light pop rhythm becomes the obsessive marking of time. Few contemporary pop songs have described the nuances of jealousy so chillingly.
The rejected narrator in 'King Of Pain' sees his abandonment as a kind of eternal damnation in which the soul becomes "a fossil that's trapped in a high cliff wall / ...A dead salmon frozen in a waterfall." 'Wrapped Around Your Finger' takes a longer, colder view of the institution of marriage. It's Turkish-inflected reggae sound underscores a lyric that portrays marriage as an ancient, ritualistic hex conniving to seduce the innocent and the curious into a kind of slavery.
'Tea In The Sahara', 'Synchronicity's' moodiest, most tantalising song, is an aural mirage that brings back the birdcalls and jungle sounds of earlier songs as whispering, ghostly instrumental voices. In this haunting parable of endless, unappeasable desire, Sting tells the story, inspired by the Paul Bowles novel 'The Sheltering Sky', of a brother and two sisters who develop an insatiable craving for tea in the desert. After sealing a bargain with a mysterious young man, they wait on a dune for his return, but he never appears. The song suggests many interpretations: England dreaming of its lost empire, mankind longing for God, and Sting himself pining for an oasis of romantic peace.
And that is where this bleak, brilliant safari into Sting's heart and soul finally deposits us - at the edge of a desert, searching skyward, our cups full of sand.
Review from Melody Maker magazine by Adam Sweeting
The most applicable comparison must be with Bowie. Like Him, The Police never made a move without consulting the career plan wallchart. "Album in June Okay, start the world tour in the autumn. What shall we put out as the second single..."
Fair enough. If I was them that's how I would do it too. Let's face it, none of us is as young as we were, and you have to make that killing while you can. This does not, of course, oblige me to love 'Synchronicity'.
Not there's very much wrong with it. I would guess that devotees of this extremely sussed trio will find plenty to amuse them, and indeed Sting has sown all sorts of cryptic little clues and messages throughout his songs which will probably have people out digging for bejewelled hares all over the British Isles (and quite possibly in the Sahara). Drivel, mostly, but it gives that patina of books having been read.
Consider for example, 'Tea In The Sahara'. Typical Police pacing, with Copeland's hi-hat ticking away over Sting's stop-start bass line. Summers, meanwhile, squeezes some chords through his chorus/echo, and Sting sings: "My sisters and I have just one wish before we die...... improbable, about a chap who flies across the Sahara for his pre-ordained meetings with the sisters in question. I think this may be a concept album. I'd prefer "The Thief of Baghdad", but it wouldn't be pretentious enough.
Other topics would appear to be include prehistory ('Walking In Your Footsteps'), mother fixations (Summers' 'Mother'), the pursuit of knowledge ('Wrapped Around Your Finger') and the fine art of murder ('Murder By Numbers', only included on the cassette version). Oh, mustn't forget the quasi-medieval images of 'King Of Pain' either, which is a song all about rich men, skeletons, broken-backed birds and "a little black spot on the sun today". Very portentous, with Gregorian chant intro. Does Sting spend his Sunday afternoons playing chess against Death, buying time with a couple of extra points off his royalties ("Here you are death, take this money and buy yourself a new scythe.")
Production, by the group and old chum Hugh Padgham, is a splendid as usual, and there are some exquisitely-handled touches in the arrangements. The way 'Synchronicity' II suddenly spreads its wings around Copeland's immense drum sound and Sting's striding bass riff, with Summers rattling off cascades of that guitar sound, is little short of enthralling. Then there are the guitar/voice harmonies which haunt the chorus of 'Wrapped Around Your Finger', the sprightly 7/4/ timing of 'Mother', and the way Copeland plays across the verses of 'Murder By Numbers'. Indeed listening to this opening track, 'Synchronicity I', it doesn't take much of a leap of imagination to foresee the Police as a fusion group. Ugh.
Like Marks and Spencer, The Police guarantee quality. The comparisons don't end there. The retail business isn't renowned for its daredevil adventure, nor for its profound emotional content, and however impressive bits of 'Synchronicity' might sound, I could never fall in love with a group which plans its every move so carefully and which would never do anything just for the hell of it. Sting as the next David Bowie Yes...I think that would do nicely.
Review from Creem magazine by Richard C Walls
Possibly the worst thing about the Police is their reviews. From the favourable ones you'd gather that this trio is God's own gift to the discriminating pop music fan, while from the few (but firm) detractors you get the picture of three new wave poseurs manipulatively using reggae and punk elements to serve their own emotionally chilly and ultimately banal music. So it's always a little surprising to actually listen to a the group and find a band which makes sophisticated and pleasurable music, music which spends most of its time transcending bassist/lead singer/main songwriter Sting's rather humdrum depressions.
Really, this Sting is some moody guy. Eight of the 110 songs are his, and fully half of them are blatantly depressed - not particularly angry, but down and dejected. 'Walking In Your Footsteps' is about the inevitable extinction of humankind (here compared to dinosaurs) via nuclear war - given the real possibility of this happening, the song is too mild by half; 'O My God' is about the silence of God and the essential loneliness of the individual; 'Synchronicity II' compares suburban angst fighting its way to the surface through a sludge of lethargy to the laborious emergence of the famous Loch Ness monster (that's right, and how you respond to this imaginative analogy will be more or less determined by how seriously you're willing to take Sting's grandiose glumness); 'King Of Pain' delineates its title by comparing the first person narrator's soul to no less than 13 grim if somewhat overwrought images ("a dead salmon frozen in a waterfall," a skeleton choking on a crust of bread," etc).
As for the remaining four songs, 'Wrapped Around Your Finger' and 'Tea In The Sahara' are doomy ciphers, the former possibly about marriage, the latter open to a handful of interpretations, none of them exactly upbeat, while 'Synchronicity I' is a trifle explaining the title concept and the monster hit 'Every Breath You Take', is ostensibly a trite love song with it's icy and obsessive core just barely concealed.
Now, none of these songs are particularly insightful, but then neither are any of them particularly stupid. And one wants to give Sting credit for trying not to be inane. Still, one recalls how elsewhere Sting was commented that the Clash have "14 year-old intellects," which sounds about right, but at least Strummer & Co come on like pissed off 14-year olds, ready and willing to shake things up than just make fragmented little observations about the lack of niceness in the world... after a while Sting's passive suffering (the secret of his success - it is a romantic image, unthreatening, properly victimised...) gets kinda tiresome. And, aside from the music, it's pretty much the whole show, drummer Stewart Copeland and guitarist Andy Summers compositional contributions having been limited to one novelty song apiece (namely Summers's 'Mother', with his Wild Man Fischer turning into Norman Bates vocal good for a yuk but mainly making one thankful that weren't any vocals on last year's Summers/Fripp collaboration, and Copeland's more successful 'Miss Gradenko', a cute distaff 'Well Respected Man' as it might have come out of the USSR, which squeezes just enough into its two minute length).
Then there's the music, which might just make the trip worth taking... this trio's come a long way from the time when every song was made up of two riffs (albeit solid ones) and each song's fade-out was a third of the song's length. Now the ear candy factor is upped to include guitar smears, synthesiser leads, afro-rhythms, in general a continuation of 'Ghost In The Machine's' aural enhancements applied here with more restraint than exuberance... something to listen to, enjoy even, while waiting for Sting-o to get some teeth into those laments. Verdict: limp but catchy (as opposed to catchy but limp) and grossly overrated. Which of course is not their fault.
Review from Musician magazine by David Fricke
'Synchronicity' is such a drastic realignment of energies and personalities within the Police as to be the work of an entirely new band. The fat pillowy, synth-buzz and shadowy overdub intricacies of 1981's 'Ghost In The Machine' - a bold, necessary escape from the slowly asphyxiating limitations of the clipped pop-and-reggae snap of their first three albums - have been sharply reduced to a new radical geometry of melody and rhythm that refers back to but does not rely on that original sound.
There are now pregnant empty spaces reverberating with Andy Summers' broad guitar synthesiser strokes where his angular echoplex chords used to be. Stewart Copeland, whose aggressive complex drum strategies have made the Police one of rock's most artful dance bands, is now keeping a harder, simpler beat, investing his few critical flourishes with the energy and imagination he used to spend on a whole drum roll. Even Sting is singing with more dramatic economy, retreating from his grandstand yells into richer, more forceful tones.
In short, everything you know about the Police is not wrong, but dramatically altered in concept and rearranged in execution. The album's lead-off track and first single 'Every Breath You Take' demonstrates these changes with a wily pop flair. While Summers picks out a muted chord progression distantly related to 'Invisible Sun', the dusky romantic caring in the song is quietly vitalised by the desolate pluck of a piano, the pastel wash of Summer's guitar synth and a distant chorus of Sting's in quiet radiant harmony.
This approach has the effect of amplifying them, transmitting the same urgency of 'Roxanne' and 'Message In A Bottle' but with subtler flashes. In 'Wrapped Around Your Finger', Sting glides into the chorus in a ringing, overdubbed duet over the song's dark neo-reggae rhythm, primed by a light prancing keyboard and Summers' effective camouflaged guitar plucking which then melts into an electronic mural effect behind Sting's poignant vocal rise. Summers also employs guitar mirage tricks that curl behind and around Sting's simple dominant bass and meditative croon in 'Tea In The Sahara'. Immediately after, he adapts that same resonance to chords that bounce resiliently off Copeland's frantic rabbit-like dash and the pasty stutter of synthesiser in 'Synchronicity I' (A Casual Principle).
The changes in the Police put 'Synchronicity' through seem to correspond to deep transitions the band have undergone themselves. Sting's brooding 'King Of Pain (which actually sports one of the LPs most attractive hooks) and 'Oh My God', with its heavy air of supplication, may well be autobiographical slips. Only half as comic as 'Be My Girl', his cockney ode to a rubber dolly on 'Outlandos d'Amour', Andy Summers' 'Mother' is a blast of pure primal scream in 7/4 time, the sarcastic cut of his Freudian recitation intensified by a brute rhythm attack recalling Robert Fripp's experiments with spoken words and white rock noise on 'Exposure'.
Whatever forced their hand, the Police responded to it with an album that is stirring, provocative and a hard slap at those uppity hipsters who say they just don't matter anymore. With 'Synchronicity', they have boldly redefined and revitalised their sound and vision. For maximum enjoyment, synchronise yourself.