Every Breath You Take: The Classics, by the Police
This album was, perhaps not surprisingly, the first album of the Police I was ever familiar with in detail. Long before I ever even thought to listen to more of the deep cuts of the Police–which are pretty worthwhile to check out, as the band was mostly excellent from its beginning–this was the album that informed me of what the classics of the Police happened to be. This is admittedly a bit of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the twelve core songs in this collection from the five studio albums of the group are definitely classics. Every single one of those songs is powerful and worthwhile, even if not all of them were big hits on the charts. On the other hand, though, this album does include two rather inessential remixes of earlier hits that were released as singles in the UK and tends to shortchange the later albums by only including twelve songs from the five studio albums. If all of the songs on this album are classics, in other words, this album does not exhaust all of the classics that the Police released, by any means.
The album begins with “Roxanne,” the first hit from the band from their first album, introducing the punky energy of the group. “I Can’t Stand Losing You” provides a stunning example of immaturity and vulnerability and one of the group’s many dark love songs. After this comes two tracks from the band’s second studio album. First among these is “Message In A Bottle,” which is intensely relatable in its exploration of solitude and communication. Second is “Walking On The Moon,” which also, not surprisingly, deals with the subject of isolation. The material of the band’s breakthrough third album begins with “Don’t Stand So Close To Me,” a song so chilling in its nature that it cries out as some sort of tale that Sting observed or experienced. “De Do Do Do De Da Da Da” is simultaneously nonsense and eloquent about the power of communication in the best and most paradoxical way. The fourth album is represented by three songs, first the exuberant “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” which is bittersweet for all of its energy about the fear that comes with love. “Invisible Sun” continues the interest in the spiritual themes of the first single in its hope for an immaterial reality that gives life hope and meaning in the face of life’s difficulties. “Spirits In The Material World” continues the message of reflecting on the spiritual nature of humanity in light of its place within the material world, a surprisingly popular mediation in the early 1980s, it must be admitted. The final studio album of the Police is represented by three of the four biggest singles of the era, starting with the #1 smash “Every Breath You Take,” a dark tale of obsession mistakenly thought of as a love song. After this comes the mournful and moving “King Of Pain,” an expression of Sting’s grief over his failing marriage. Third comes “Wrapped Around Your Finger,” another dark but literate tale of obsession. The collection is then closed out by remixes of “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” and “Message In A Bottle” that were released in 1986 as “new” singles for the collection because the group had no new material to provide.
As far as greatest hits collections go, this is a good one. As is sometimes the case, the only thing that would have made this collection better is more material. The obvious omission here is Synchronicity II, a song that is a classic in its own right, a thematically important song in the final album of The Police, and a top 20 hit besides. It might have been thought that the material was already skewed to the latter albums of the group and so a fourth song from the Synchronicity album would make the material out of proportion, but this is an unfortunate omission all the same. At least it can be said that all of the classics on here are genuine classics, and the album leaves the wise listener wanting more, and hopefully investigating the studio albums of the group to fill in the missing pieces and decide what other songs should be considered as classics as well. The concern with this album, as with all compilations that purport to be essential, is that the listener may be led to believe that these materials exhaust the essential material of the group, which would be incorrect as far as the Police are concerned, whatever may be said for lesser acts.