Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Message out of the bottle: The Police are back!

With rumors that The Police might reunite gaining heat and smoke over the past few weeks, I'd been meaning to write something about the possibility. I love to tell the kids that Sting wasn't always a lute-playing douchebag who exaggerated stories about his tantric sex marathons, while essentially becoming a younger, quirkier (and, well, less gay) version of Elton John.

No, Sting used to be cool. And he was the frontman for maybe the coolest band on the planet.

At least that's what The Police was to Young Ian. I don't think "Spirits In the Material World" was the first single I ever bought on a 45 (I am sooo giving away my age here), but it was definitely among the first.

And it was like nothing I'd ever heard. The pounding synthesizer beat, with Sting's bass notes dancing around it, and Andy Summers' guitar slashing underneath. Even the record's sleeve stood out, with what looked like red digital Japanese characters against a pitch black background.

Then there was that video. Who the hell were these guys jamming around with their instruments in a barely lit studio? Sting slapped the neck of his bass guitar like he was taunting anyone who dared to watch. Summers hopped around in a torn-up t-shirt that would've gotten me yanked back into the house by my mother. And Stewart Copeland. Damn, was he a bad-ass. Hiding behind sunglasses, lower lip jutting out with determination, he whipped at his drums like he was trying to hurt somebody. When I was eight years old, I knew I wanted to be a drummer. I wanted to be Stewart Copeland.

Their sound eventually smoothed out as Sting started on the path toward the musical wet rag he is today. Less of the reggae-type guitars. Less energy. Less defiance. More arrangements. More craft. More ego. It's hard to argue with the results when you consider how successful "Every Breath You Take" was. But it's also not difficult to see how The Police eventually broke up after that. The band just wasn't the same. And Sting was ready to move on musically, to songs with which he could take all the credit.

I've been reading Andy Summers' recently published memoir, titled One Train Later, about his musical career through the last days of The Police. And as you might imagine, he goes into some detail about the band's deterioration, largely due to Sting's ego-tripping and the resentment it caused. You've probably heard the stories about Copeland taping insults and rants directed at Sting to the skins of his drums. I love that! No wonder the guy pounded those drums so viciously.

As a kid, I didn't understand that, of course. I just knew that one of my favorite bands was breaking up. How do you do that when it seems like you rule the world? I blamed Sting, and it's probably a large reason why I never warmed up to his solo stuff (though I like The Dream of the Blue Turtles), and continue to hold something of a grudge, as silly as that might be.

But to this day, there's not another band that sounds like The Police. Within one or two notes, you know exactly who's playing when you hear one of their songs. The sound they created is still that distinct.

And now it's official: they're getting the band back together again. 30 years after they released "Roxanne." More than 20 years after they shut the whole thing down. After rehearsing in Vancouver, The Police will reunite at the Grammy Awards in less than two weeks. (They performed a one-shot gig at the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in 2003.) Appropriately, they're opening the show. So on February 11, I'm pretty sure I'll be watching the Grammys for the first time in about 15 years.

Will a reunion tour follow? My guess would be no, because of all the hard feelings that have been expressed. Of course, huge money has a way of healing such grudges. Maybe this has been in the works for a long time. Is it possible that Summers' autobiography was an insidious plan to whet the dormant appetites of Police fans around the world?

No, that's being cynical. I can't let that stand in the way of possibly blowing $100 on a concert ticket. 26 years later, long after I gave up those rock drummer dreams, I might finally get to see these guys live in concert.