Alan Ferguson Presents: The Police Step Up with Reggatta de Blanc
By Alan Ferguson
It’s 1979 and The Police have one Converse sneaker firmly wedged in the door of fame and fortune. As a band they hail from London, England, where they were initially dismissed as opportunists for trying to hitch a ride on the UK punk bandwagon. But now they’re starting to take off, and partly because they’ve successfully blended pretend reggae with their pretend punk rock.
Most importantly, the general public is beginning to catch onto their “arresting”merits. Lead singer and bassist Sting has a unique, high-pitched voice, sex appeal, and an uncanny ability to write smart and economical pop songs such as the break-out tune ‘Roxanne’, a romantic song about a woman of the night. Stewart Copeland is a deft powerhouse of a drummer, and guitarist Andy Summers is a seasoned pro who shares Sting’s affinity for jazz and classical music. Their 1978 debut album Outlandos d’Amour was impressive, but with the release of Reggatta de Blanc in 1979 (loosely translated as White Reggae), they arrive at their classic sound, and deliver what is arguably their finest musical moment.
Reggatta de Blanc & The Bed’s Too Big Without You, Live 1979
One of the most significant changes on this sophomore release is Copeland’s drumming. Although he dabbled with reggae rhythms on the first album, he was always the loudest advocate of hard-driving punk in the ranks of The Police. But it wasn’t really his forte. He can play louder and faster than anyone else on the scene, but in his zeal he tends to rush the tempo; much to the consternation of his band mates. On Reggatta de Blanc he settles into the style that will become his signature: minimalist, syncopated, and inspired by reggae amongst other global influences. No surprise really, because Copeland grew up in Lebanon.
Of equal note, Andy Summers achieves an iconic guitar sound on this album that was only hinted at in his playing on Outlandos d’Amour. With the strategic use of effects such as delay (echo), and flange (sounds like a jet plane flying overhead), he can generate a dense yet airy sound with one strum, such as is heard on ‘Walking on the Moon’. But he doesn’t need to rely on technology alone to generate a lot of atmosphere. His rhythm guitar parts on ‘Message in a Bottle’, ‘Bring on the Night’ and ‘The Bed’s Too Big Without You’ have an elegant, languorous quality that nicely offsets the dynamic pulse of the rhythm section.
Bring on the Night, Live 1980
As for Sting, he opts for punchy understatement in his bass lines, playing only the notes that matter most. His songwriting on this album sounds as fluid and natural as the exotic soundscapes the band’s concocting. He’s not making lofty statements or name-checking classic literature; he’s just riffing on emotion. He offers up at least one more classic song with ‘Message in a Bottle’’s evocative take on loneliness.
Reggatta also features two Copeland songs. ‘On Any Other Day’ is an oddball litany of one terrible day’s events, and ‘Does Everyone Stare’ is a romantic, nerdy confessional that hints at the trademark quirkiness of the drummer’s post-Police soundtrack work. It’s hard to imagine weirdly wonderful ditties like these appearing on an album by a chart-topping act in 2011.
Does Everyone Stare
There’s a rare and magical chemistry at work on Reggatta de Blanc, and audiences around the world will respond enthusiastically. The Police will go on to even greater commercial success with subsequent releases, but the musical and personal spark within the trio has already peaked. By the time their #1 album Synchronicity arrives in 1983, The Police will be the most popular band in the world, but they will also be weighted down by internal tensions and thwarted by the fact that they will have accomplished all they set out to do.
But it’s 1979, and The Police are just taking off.
Posted on April 30, 2011, in The Presents Series and tagged Andy Summers, Bring on the Night, Does Everyone Stare, Reggatta de Blanc, Stewart Copleland, Sting, The Bed's Too Big Without You, The Police. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.