The Worst Rock Band Of All Time: The Police
To be the worst rock band you can’t just have been pretty rotten forever, both on record and in person, you must have also been well respected and very very big. So when in you think to yourself, sure The Police were bad but Styx were worse, well, yes, of course, but Styx didn’t matter. How about Phil Collins, or just about anything Genesis did once Peter Gabriel left? Sure, but what about everything they did before Peter Gabriel left? Also, Phil wasn’t Sting, he didn’t have all that preening egotism.
Coldplay are duffers, U2 still do it live, E Street Band were the worst of all time for 25 minutes at a rock and roll hall of fame gig two years ago,and they have yet to recover from the loss Of Clarence Clemons, but as late as 2010 you might have considered them the best. In 1982, on any possible rational critical consideration, the Rolling Stones were the worst people making the worst records and performing the worst live shows, of all time. Just listen to Still Life. But they recovered. So, yeah, it is difficult to be simultaneously that big and that bad, to be such egotistical monsters and yet such terrible performers and songwriters and humongously popular. It can’t be done, can it?
First runner up for worst band ever is Bon Jovi, who have parlayed a blonde bimbo and a handful of songs into a decades long career. Still, Bon Jovi have two redeeming qualities. If you can cut their set to 20 minutes -like they did at the Hurricane Sandy gig, they can be fun, and they don’t take themselves that seriously.
As for the Police: This is what I wrote about Sting last year: “Sting is the worst major songwriter of all time. From the bland anthem “Brand New Day” to the bland reggae of “Roxanne”, he is unbearable… Thursday a “The Hounds Of Winter” followed by “Driven To Tears” was a nadir not just of the night but the year, you want to walk out and never turn back till you reach the Pacific Ocean.”
I walked out on the Sting-Simon gig in 2014, I walked out on The Police reunion gig at MSG in 2008, I walked out on a Sting solo gig in the 1990s and a big league Police gig in the 1980s, and I am sure I’d have walked out on them in the 1970s if I’d seen them. Reggae may be a slow groove but it shouldn’t be this lugubrious bore through song after song after song.
This isn’t Stewart Copeland’s fault, undoubtedly the best thing about the band, he is performing the skittish dubby rhythms with absolute dexterity but it is reggae, it drags by definition. And it isn’t Andy Summers. It is Sting, the man who took sole songwriting credit for “Every Breath You Take” and responded to his teammates who co-wrote it (and hated him for excellent reason) complaints on record in a Revolver interview with, “Life… is… fucking… tough. Here I am in Tuscany…”
But I’d forgive him if I the songs were only any good. I am listening to The Police’s Greatest Hits and my only fear is overkill, so let me tone it down. “Every Breath You Take” is a great song, “King Of Pain” is maybe their second best song ever. So let’s hand it to Synchronicty, the 1983 farethewell, which includes both songs. And if you can get past Sting’s misreading of C.G. Jung, it is not the worst thing I’ve ever heard. It plods too much but if I’d never heard of Sting, maybe I’d be kinder.
Better than I’d give that greatest hits, which doesn’t bare listening to. Sting is his own worst enemy, he can write the chorus or he can write the verse but he can’t write both on the same song. And mostly he doesn’t write either and ends up with the faux funk of “When The World Is Running You Down, You Make The Best Of What’s Still Around” -a random choice from Zenyatta Mondatta, which should kill but the only thing that works is the bass lick.
But let’s stay with The Police’s saddest mistake, the huge hit “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic”, where the low-loud song kills itself midflight, with maybe the best chorus they’ve ever written you can’t get there in one piece, it’s like they wrote the verses to punish their fans.
Solo, Sting has given self-deprecating pomposity whole new levels of meaning. From tantric sex to last ship, every little thing he does is a disaster. I am sure the tax exile who dyed his hair to ride punk into the charts with his dreary reggae rip offs till he figured out how to write a chorus and then proudly stole the riff from his former bandmates, isn’t all blowhard self-importance and arrogance. He probably never kicks his wife or beats his children, either. But one of the seven circles of hell is watching Sting reach for an acoustic guitar in an indoor arena. You know you’re in for it. As a toxic mix of sell out attitude ego, bad vibes and ruthless plagiarism they are unbeatable
Album Grades, and I must admit, hearing some of this stuff, much for the first time in 30 years, neither Ghost nor Synchronicity were as terrible as I remembered.
Outlandos d’Amour (1978) – One listen to “Next To You” and you’ll know why they went reggae. “Can’t Stand Losing You” is a goodie – C-
Reggatta de Blanc (1979)- white reggae -geddit? – D+
Zenyatta Mondatta (1980) – Here they are not just bad, they are bad and assholes about it – D
Ghost in the Machine (1981) – On top of the world, “Spirit In The Material World” is an exceptional song, a perfection of their reggae jones and without attempting for a hit, they layer a tantalizing lick on the bridge – C
Synchronicity (1983) – It can’t be a coincidence their three best songs are on the same album, their last one, when they weren’t talking to each other – C+