Album Review: Synchronicity

Synchronicity, by The Police

After four successful albums, the last one even more successful than the first three, The Police were, for a short time, the biggest rock band in the entire world. As might be imagined, this proved to be a massive catastrophe. The making of the fifth studio album by The Police proved to be an immensely difficult challenge for the band, torn apart by internal conflict, as the immensely creative and productive Sting dominated the songwriting and muscled aside his increasingly frustrated bandmates, who could not match his concepts (as trite as they found the exploration of Jungian psychology) nor his songwriting pace. Meanwhile, Sting himself was troubled by the breakdown of his marriage, possibly as a result of his affair with a close friend of his estranged wife’s. The resulting personal and professional turmoil obviously took a tool on the band itself, but did it ruin the music? After all, this is an album that has some immensely beloved classics that have remained vital in the music world, including “Every Breath You Take,” “King Of Pain,” and “Wrapped Around Your Finger,” which sit back to back to back towards the end of the album, as if daring the casual listener to see the best of what the album had to offer after a much less distinguished first half. But is it worth waiting for?

The album opens with “Synchronicity I,” which features a nervous but upbeat instrumental introduction before lyrics introduce the lyrical themes of the album and the interplay between the nightmare of the world and the dream of love and connection. “Walking In Your Footsteps” features an austere instrumental that is simultaneously a bit experimental in its sounds, and lyrics that focus on the connection between the present and the past, with ominous implications concerning human beings being as doomed as dinosaurs were. “O My God” borrows previous lyrics and explores the problem of turning the other cheek to provide a much darker view of the relationship explored in “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” suggesting that the magic of love had turned awfully dark, with discordant saxophones to set the mood. “Mother” provides a bit of levity with a song that continues in the theme of love gone wrong, but instead ending up with the sort of cringeworthy track about the narrator’s mother that would have better fit in on the band’s first two albums. “Miss Gradenko” is a short song that explores what looks to be a relationship, but by no means one that appears to be entirely pleasant. “Synchronicity II,” which was a considerable hit on its own terms, features gorgeous instruments and more lyrical explorations of the album’s themes of connection as well as darkness with nods to other songs in the album. “Every Breath You Take” follows with its ominous grove and lyrics about obsessive love told from the point of view of a stalker, which somehow became the biggest hit of the Police’s whole career. “King Of Pain” follows with gloomy but gorgeous music and somewhat self-pitying lyrics about suffering and isolation springing from the collapse of his marriage. “Wrapped Around Your Finger,” another dark but gorgeous song, features a scenario straight out of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice or Faust but was a surprising and well-deserved hit. “Tea In The Sahara” features atmospheric music with reflection on what appears to be another artistic reference to mental illness, travel, and exploitation. “Murder By Numbers” explores the state of mind needed to commit a murder with jazzy lyrics, closing the album with a song that reflects the darkness as well as the finality of this particular album in the Police’s career.

Few albums better fit the mood of their makers to the extent of Synchronicity. Even as Sting sought to find connection with creation and other people, the turmoil of his band and marriage breaking up under the stress caused by his own behavior impressed itself deeply onto an album that is simultaneously beautiful as well as immensely troubled. Hardly any of the songs are light-hearted and upbeat, and the funniest song, “Mother,” is such only accidentally. In this album the band turns in on itself, with the album ending with clapping in a song about murder even as the band was self-destructing. If Sting would find his footing easily enough in an immensely successful solo career that would continue on the path blazed by the Police over the following decades, the Police as a whole would have a long hiatus before uniting again in live tours, aside from the periodic live or compilation albums that would drop after that. It is unclear if the Police knew that this album was as deeply ironic as it ended up being, but from can be read about the way that they responded to the album and the breakup of the band, it is clear that there was little love lost between Sting and his bandmates and that despite the group’s success, Sting’s obvious leadership rankled on his bandmates. It is easy to long for connection and unity, and hard to achieve it.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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