An unflinching look at the rise of one of the most recognizable names in pop music - The Police The Police have sold more than 50 million albums, made Rolling Stone's Greatest Artists of All Time list, and finished a triumphant world reunion tour in 2008. Now British journalist Chris Campion draws on extensive research and new interviews to trace the inside saga of this iconic group, including the unorthodox business strategies employed by manager Miles Copeland that took them to the top and the intense rivalry that drove Sting, Andy Summers, and Stewart Copeland to split at the height of their success in the 1980s.
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Considering the Police's definitive place in the history of New Wave, it's initially surprising to hear them described as such mediocre, opportunistic, and profoundly flawed human beings. However, as the story unfolds, it becomes obvious that author Campion has a serious axe to grind, as his seemingly comprehensive tome on the band devolves into a feature-length exercise in character assassination, tinged liberally with a not-insignificant helping of judgement and smirk.
Much of the early section of the band's history casts them as ruthless manipulators of the punk movement, a group of schemers masquerading as serious-minded musicians to cash in on whatever trend could be ridden to riches, all the while insulting their audience's intelligence and good will. Campion seizes on the regular instances of disharmony - particularly between Sting and Stewart Copeland - as if this were proof positive that, beneath their marginal talents, this ground-breaking band could be reduced to a bad marriage that stayed together for the sake of kids. The only positive words are effusively heaped on Henri Padovani, the Police's original but fundamentally limited guitar player. Which, I guess, makes Andy Summers the homewrecker.
Of some distraction is the interspersing of New Wave historical information, and even here, the focus is squarely on Miles Copeland (the Police's manager), A&M Records (the Police's original label) and Copeland's Faulty Products / I.R.S. stable of performers (ie. Squeeze). Not only is this shockingly inadequate coverage of New Wave (even as an overview), but these sections veer away from the Police narrative regularly, leaving the listener wondering when the main story will resume.
In the later segments, Sting's solo career is cast as a cold and calculating exploration of jazz/world music and black musicians bordering, it is imagined, on racist exploitation. Too, Copeland's post-Synchronicity adventures are dismissed as desperate grasps at respectability, while Summers drifts aimlessly as an aging relic, lost without the band as his meal ticket.
Fred Berman's narration is clear and straightforward, though on multiple occasions he seems to unconsciously slip into a weak Sting vocal impression (the only character in the story for whom he does this), which at least underscores the prominent role Sting plays in the life and subsequent demise of the band. In being forced to deliver this literary hate-fest, he could probably be excused that one eccentric habit.
In a more honest assessment, I would assume that Campion would ultimately confess that, once upon a time, Sting stole his prom date, Summers wrecked his car, and Copeland shot his dog. Little else could explain this pointlessly negative hatchet job of a history. What could otherwise have been an effective and objective account of the Police's career (and the complicated dynamic between its headstrong members) is reduced to preachy diatribe (the word "petulant" is trotted out with exceeding regularity), which has the listener eventually hoping to quit walking on the moon and instead float out into the serene vacuum of space.