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Outlandos d'Amour
The Police

A&M 4753
Released: February 1979
Chart Peak: #23
Weeks Charted: 63
Certified Platinum: 8/15/84

Stewart CopelandAndy SummersStingOn the Police's debut album, Outlandos d'Amour, lead vocalist/bassist Sting sings in a sleight-of-hand variety of styles; there's a high-pitched quaver reminiscent of Ray Davies on the love songs, some Jamaican patois trotted out for the reggae cuts, a bit of Roger Daltrey's phlegm-that-swallowed-Kansas howling for a big rabble-rouser like "Born in the 50's." Sting sounds like a guy who's just made sergeant and is looking for a voice to back up his new stripes.

His band, too, offers a little something for everyone. If the flexible, jazz-influenced flourishes of drummer Stewart Copeland, a reggae beat and guitarist Andy Summers' finely honed attentiveness to nuance led the Police a stylish art-rock elegance, their music still sounds unpolished and sometimes mean enough to let them pass for part-time members of the New Wave -- even though it's a brand of New Wave sufficiently watered down to allow these guys to become today's AOR darlings. And yet their hybrid of influences has been fused into a streamlined, scrappy style, held together by the kind of knotty, economical hooks that make a song stick out on the radio. Musically, Outlandos d'Amour has a convincing unity and drive.

The Police - Outlandos d'Amour
Original album ad art.
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It's on the emotional level that it all seems somewhat hollow. Posing as a punk, Sting, as both singer and songwriter, can't resist turning everything into an art-rock game. He's so archly superior to the material that he fails to invest it with much feeling. Deft and rhythmically forceful though they are, the songs work only as posh collections of catch phrases ("Can't stand losing you") thrown out at random to grab your attention: lyrical hooks to punch up musical hooks, with nothing behind them.

By trying to have it both ways -- posturing as cool art-rockers and heavy, meaningful New Wavers at the same time -- the Police merely adulterate the meanings of each. Their punk pose is no more than a manipulative come-on. For all its surface threat, there's no danger in this music, none of the spontaneity or passion that punk (and reggae) demands. Even when Sting says, "There's a hole in my life," he can't convince us it's keeping him up nights -- we know it's just another conceit. And the larger the implied emotions, the tinnier he makes them sound. A gimmicky anthem manufactured out of whole cloth, "Born in the 50's" reaches for Who-style generational myth making (down to its ringing, Pete Townshend-like guitar line), but Sting can't make us see that there's anything special about this generation, because he knows there really isn't.

The lack of emotional commitment becomes truly offensive in the minstrel-show Natty Dread accent that Sting puts on for the reggae numbers. The Clash's great "(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais" works as white reggae because it's all about Joe Strummer's painful awareness that he can never claim this music as his own. Sting simply co-opts the style without acknowledging that such questions exist. The Police's reggae is an infuriating and condescending parlor trick -- a kind of slumming that isn't even heartfelt.

As entertainment, Outlandos d'Amour isn't monotonous -- it's far too jumpy, and brittle for that -- but its mechanically minded emptiness masquerading as feeling makes you feel cheated, and more than a little empty yourself. You're worn out by all the supercilious, calculated pretense. The Police leave your nervous system all hyped up with no place to go.

- Tom Carson, Rolling Stone, 6/14/79.

Bonus Reviews!

They say ya gotta have a gimmick. Well, the Police have one, and it's so good that it's sort of a shock no one thought of it before. What they do is construct (most of) their songs with intros and verses in modified white-kid reggae rhythm, then abruptly shift gears into a standard rock beat mated with the harmonic feel of mid-Sixties pop groups, complete with the captivating vocal harmonies of the period. "Hooks," as they say, abound, as do some interesting lyrical variations on some otherwise mundane New Wave themes such as teen romance and suicide.

They also have another gimmick, which is that they're the freshest, toughest young rock-and-roll (not punk, not pop) band I've heard in ages. They have first-rate singing, a sense of structural sophistication well beyond their years, and rock (!) solid instrumental work that manages to accomplish something I'd thought well-nigh impossible: making the concept of the power trio viable and interesting again. Add to this a splendid production job that maintains a basically "live" feel, and you have an exciting mix.

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Although I'm not drawing any actual musical parallel, this album somehow suggests what it must have been like to hear the fledgling Who thrash out the beginnings of their style in some divey London pub fifteen years ago; it has that palpable an aura of history in the making. Needless to say, I suggest you be the first on your block to see if I'm not onto something.

- Steve Simels, Stereo Review, 5/79.

There's a lot to listen to in this 10 cut debut from one of the new wave's more listenable trios, including the reggae-tinged lead cut, "Roxanne," which deals with prostitution in a poignant way. The music is straight-forward rock for the most part, with low-key melodies supporting strong lyrics and a definite beat. A band to watch. Best cuts: "Roxanne," "Born In The 50's," "Can't Stand Losing You," "So Lonely."

- Billboard, 1979.

Tuneful, straight-ahead rock and roll is my favorite form of mindlessness, and almost all of these songs -- riffs-with-lyrics, really -- make the cretin in me hop. But only "Can't Stand Losing You" makes him jump up and down. And the "satiric" soliloquy to an inflatable bedmate makes him push reject. B+

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

The Police's debut album had just the right amount of rawness to balance a rapidly developing slick presentation. Sting in particular seems not to even care about his throat and screams through tracks like "So Lonely" without a trace of inhibition. A low budget production, the recording was financed by the band themselves.

Made at Surrey Studios, the recording is a bit "wooffy" with drum and bass mingled and a little confused. This is probably due to the equalisation used for CD mastering which has "lifted" the bass frequencies. Cymbals sound is very swishy and decidedly odd in the opening track with the extra treble energy available from CD. Vocals have more impact from LP though since they are more forward in the absence of the bass and treble extension of CD. Annunciation is clearer from CD however.

A very grainy hiss is present on CD but at very low levels.

- David Prakel, Rock 'n' Roll on Compact Disc, 1987.

The Police's first album, although fairly rough, is still an impressive first effort. Although "Can't Stand Losing You" was their first hit (it made the Top 50), the best-known track on this album is definitely "Roxanne," still a favorite among college-radio stations. The influence of the punk era on this album is evident, as is bass player Sting's jazz background. A great deal of fun. * * * *

- Iotis Erlewine, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

Super songs and an enthusiastic freshness are the hallmarks of this compelling debut by the best trio ever, truly original thinkers and musicians whose merger of styles (reggae, punk, rock) hints at future greatness years before Sting became a New Age guru. Bursting with energy, songs like "Roxanne" and "Can't Stand Losing You" proved hugely influential and can still be heard in movies, TV and rap samples today. * * * *

- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.

They would get bigger, but they never sounded fresher. The Police were punks who could play their instruments, absorbing reggae into the spare, bouncy sound of their debut album. "Roxanne," "Next to You" and "So Lonely" proved that Sting was already a top-notch pop songwriter.

Outlandos d'Amour was chosen as the 434th greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.

- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.

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