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The Police – Greatest Hits (Polydor/UMC)

25 September 2022

There are no clunkers among the Police’s brief catalog of albums. The trio only made five studio LPs during a high-octane run between 1978 and 1983, showing rapid development from admitted origins as calculated punk scene posers to the band’s ultimate status as world-dominating pop-rock chart-toppers. A greatest hits collection is bound to miss fan favorites, but this set isn’t targeted at old-guard completists. Considering that we’re a couple of generations removed from the band’s groundbreaking run, Greatest Hits provides the uninitiated with a useful Cliff Notes-styled encapsulation of the Police’s radio hits and most popular fare. The half-speed mastered two-LP set does sound brilliant, though, and it will be a nice addition for those who only have the band’s material on CD. The gatefold jacket and poster-boy pin-up picture sleeves are a nice touch.

If you heard a Police song on the radio or saw the accompanying video during the heyday of MTV, it’s included in this chronologically-organized 16-track collection. 1978’s Outlandos d’Amour is represented by three entries, led by the spiky reggae-punk fusion of “Roxanne.” 1979’s Regatta de Blanc also gets three, including the manic propulsion and indelible guitar riff of “Message in a Bottle.” The gravity-defying reggae-pop of “Walking on the Moon” showcases Stewart Copeland’s innovative percussion. Third album Zenyatta Mondatta ushered the Police into their ‘80s megastar status, but is only represented by two tracks illustrating the range of Sting’s literate and thematic writing. The conflicted teacher’s tale in “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” is informed by Nabokov’s Lolita and namechecks the author. “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” finds Sting reduced to gibberish in the face of the controlling double-talk of various authorities including “poets, priests, and politicians.” 1981’s Ghost in the Machine offers the euphoric synth-pop of “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” with Sting’s moaning fretless bass, the moody “Invisible Sun” with Andy Summers’ improvisational jazz-influenced soloing, and the restless “Spirits in the Material World” with Copeland’s backward backbeat.

Greatest Hits’ final five tracks are dedicated to 1983’ global smash Synchronicity, with only the arid and mysterious “Tea in the Sahara” possibly classifiable as a deep cut. Billboard #1 single “Every Breath You Take” leads vinyl side four, illustrating the Police at their pop pinnacle with a stalker’s confession that is still mischaracterized often as a romantic slow-dance number. The unrelenting drive and grim fatalism of “Synchronicity II” underscore the trio’s hardest-driving rocker. Sting was at his most vulnerable with the paradoxically anthemic “King of Pain,” and declared his heart’s obsession with “Wrapped Around Your Finger.”

The collection can’t help but omit key moments on the band’s arc, such as guitarist Summers’ Grammy-winning instrumental “Behind My Camel.” Other absentee cuts like drummer Stewart Copeland’s jaunty anti-war anthem “Bombs Away” or bassist/singer Sting and Summers’ politically potent b-side “Murder By Numbers” would be interesting in terms of how troublingly relevant the songs remain. The ecological warning of the missing “Walking in Your Footsteps” could be characterized as a rallying cry by contemporary climate change protesters. That’s all fanboy/fangirl armchair quarterbacking, though. Greatest Hits does justice to the legacy of the biggest band of the early ‘80s, from the days before they passed the baton to U2.