The first time I saw The Police I thought them unlikely candidates for stardom. With their shaggy peroxide haircuts and shabby boiler suits they seemed destined to follow their fellow punk travellers 999 and ATV into quick obscurity.
Five years after 'Roxanne' and 'Can't Stand Losing You', The Police can fill Wembley four nights running while their records top worldwide charts. The band's Midas touch is no secret, as everyone must know they are fronted by Sting, a man who has made the transition from Geordie teacher to pin-up folk hero and star of stage and screen.
The virtues of the Police sound are obvious. The group rely on simple song structures which are never far from the nearest unforgettable hook. The material, higher on melodic content than any sustained instrumental adventure, benefits from Sting's capacity to hold the spotlight with his many voices.
Yet The Police are not immune from the pitfalls of stadium rock. Sting cajoled the audience by cutting acrobatic shapes from his trampoline like a latter-day D'Artagnan but seldom applied the same cut and thrust to the music. Too often one sensed that the band were playing variations on a theme, the morose nature of 'Synchronicity II', 'King of Pain' and 'Walking in Your Footsteps being more noticeable than Sting's charisma. When they lost hold of their dynamic The Police verged on bombastic and there was little to recommend in the unmemorable passage of 'Wrapped Around Your Finger' (surely, their worst single), or in the unintelligible 'Oh My God'. The bland accompaniment of back-up singers cluttered rather than enhanced the sound while the drummer, Stewart Copeland, was better heard behind his kit than tampering with an array of percussive effects.
The trio came to life with the syncopated soul of 'Hole In My Life' which, like 'Walking on The Moon', found Sting making maximum use of his clean reggae tones. There were further reminders of their classy streamlined pop in the plaintive strains of 'Every Breath You Take' and the chilling 'Invisible Sun'. The Police formula is undeniably successful, but this evening was a safe entertainment. It was rarely inspired.
© The Times by Max Bell