Ghost In The Machine, by The Police
After three successful albums, the Police were one of the most important rock acts in the world, having demonstrated increasing skill in making thoughtful music that combined various elements, originally coming from more of a pop punk background (much to the annoyance of punk purists) and then adding different elements including a high degree of world music influence. By the time of their fourth album, the Police were highly interested in cementing their reputation as serious but also immensely popular musicians. The result of their efforts was an album with three massive hits, which continued their upward trend of sales in the United States (and elsewhere) and another song that ended up helping to inspire a movie later on (“Demolition Man”), for which Sting later re-recorded the titular song. But, even if this was a successful album as far as sales are concerned, does it hold up more than 40 years after its creation on a musical level? Let’s see.
The album beings with “Spirits In The Material World,” whose intricate musical palette introduces the theme of the interaction of the spirit and material that the album’s title promises, a worthy and successful song. “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” is a bit more catchy and slight, but even here there is the hint of “magic” and the relationship of the immaterial to the material world, even in love in relationships. “Invisible Sun” looks at the grim nature of the external world and posits an invisible sun that provides spiritual energy and hope to that dark world, another stellar song that demonstrates the album’s thematic unity. “Hungry For You” shows Sting demonstrating a knowledge of French in an upbeat song that is one of the band’s notable experiments. “Demolition Man” is upbeat and frantic and also deeply ominous, where someone’s plan goes disastrously wrong when dealing with a spectacularly awkward person. “Too Much Information” looks at the common problem of having too much going in one’s head. “Re-Humanize Yourself” looks at the flip side of needing to become more human and less of a machine in an every more technology-filled world. “One World (Not Three)” points to the unity of the world and its people in the face of categories that seek to divide humanity based on political affiliation. “Omegaman” has ominous music and lyrics that explore the line between sanity and madness, seemingly related to a concern about the state of the world and the narrator’s life. “Secret Journey” is another song relating to the sad state of the world and the desire to find some sort of insight in esoteric or spiritual matters. “Darkness” closes the album with a groovy instrumental and some lovely riffs set to lyrics related to a dark emotional state.
If Zenyatta Mondatta was a demonstration of the maturation of The Police from their somewhat immature pop punk roots, Ghost In The Machine shows the listener what the next decades of Sting’s career would be as a musician both in the Police and then, not too long in the future, as a solo artist. There is thoughtful musing about love and relationships, accessible songs with surprising depth, as well as deep interests in matters of spirituality as well as the sorry state of the world and the political mess that we find ourselves in. As is the case with the previous album and its musing on communication and its difficulties, this is an album whose concerns and anxiety about technology and the spirit in man are highly relevant, and if the songs are clearly of their time, the matters they wrestle with are no less relevant now than in the early 1980s. Sting has been able to mine this vein of thoughtful social commentary set to accessible music with commercial success for decades now, and it’s easy to see why this album was both a success in its time as well as something worth revisiting even now.