As hooks go, it startled unsuspecting listeners and yanked them to attention. The plaintive cry of “Roxanne!” came from the pit of the stomach, from a man overwhelmed by infatuation, or lust, or both. Actually, it sounded more like this, something between a siren and a honk: “Roooooxxxxx-anne!” It simultaneously identified a lover in agony and a band on the cusp of pop immortality.
The Police took several forms in their early days of the 1970s before settling into a trio that consisted of Sting (real name Gordon Sumner) on vocals and bass, Andy Summers on guitar and Stewart Copeland on drums. Great Britain was just on the downside of the punk movement that electrified the music world, and the Police benefited from the vapors.
But they didn’t blend in. They took England’s fixation on reggae, fervent at the time because of a significant number of Caribbean immigrants, and mixed it with a new wave edge. The result was a sound that placated the voracious appetites of the spiked-hair set while sliding comfortably into the upper slots on the pop charts.
It was “Roxanne” that broke them out in the U.S. It reached No. 32 in the States in 1979 and No. 12 in the UK — not exactly Elvis and the Beatles territory — but the single received a considerable amount of airplay on alternative stations, which reached the base of the Police’s constituency. The song actually was released two years earlier, but it failed to land on the charts on the first go-round. The re-release, however, caused young people on two continents and beyond to wail, “Rooooxxxxx-anne!”
More Police activity has transpired since then, and a vast expanse of musical landscape has been explored by the boys individually since the band’s disintegration in 1986. Now there are rumors of a Police reunion, to mark the 30th anniversary of the original release of “Roxanne.” The Police’s record company, A&M, is expected to distribute a new set of DVDs and CDs to commemorate the occasion. But naturally, it is hopeful the band members will put aside egos and personal quibbles and reunite to support the products.
The Police have reunited twice previously, but both of those occasions were one-night flings. In 1992 the members played together at Sting’s wedding. And in 2003 the Police assembled once again upon their induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The former was a champagne-soaked affair that erupted in the spirit of celebration with prompting from guests; the latter was more ceremonial and expected, but just as capricious.
Suggestions of a more substantive mobilization of the Police have met with enthusiasm over the years from Summers and Copeland and with scorn by Sting. After all, Sting has had the more illustrious solo career of the three by far. He was the charismatic front man with the distinctive set of pipes and a gift for ethereal songwriting. The mere suggestion of a reunion similar to the Eagles’ “Hell Freezes Over” tour in 1994 would have been grounds for Sting to smash his lute over a rock journalist’s head.
The stumbling block to a Police reunion up to this point had been Sting’s lack of need for one, both financially and creatively. Much to the chagrin of fans of the Police, Sting drifted off on a musical cloud, far away from the punk-reggae roots that grabbed listeners in the first place. In a sense, he did what David Byrne of Talking Heads did: Although he delved into new worlds and dabbled in different genres, the priority seemed to be to get as far away as possible from the band that provided him with fame and success in the first place.
The Police were hard-driving. Sting, conversely, was as airy and whimsical as an elf’s eyelash. Most of his solo compositions seemed designed to be sung to a fair maiden lying in a bed of lupines.
This was a far cry from the Police’s most memorable songs, such as “Can’t Stand Losing You,” “The Bed’s Too Big Without You,” “Walking On The Moon,” “Message In A Bottle,” “Driven To Tears,” “Don’t Stand So Close To Me,” “King Of Pain” and “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic.”
The Police had a sound as unique as any in rock history. When Sting went solo, he certainly produced his share of hits — “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free,” “Fortress Around Your Heart” and “If I Ever Lose My Faith In You,” to name but a small handful — but it was as if he took the Police sound and added water to serve a larger audience.
That’s unfortunate, because the Police brought reggae to the masses. Certainly artists like Bob Marley and Peter Tosh were more accomplished and more renowned practitioners of the genre. But the Police popularized a form that had previously been the bailiwick of the dreadlocks-and-reefer brigade. And they did so without compromising or conforming. Their success on the charts wasn’t met with derision, simply because they commanded as much respect for what they did as the Clash did for their work.
A lot of that is forgotten now. The front man is older and mellower. He still performs some of the old Police hits in concert, including “Roxanne,” but most of his music now is the equivalent of a G-rated movie. Lost is the fury, the urgency, the brashness. Age is partly responsible, but it’s also due to a lack of will and an abundance of comfort.
Lost, but not forgotten. Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey still get together and rage like they used to. The Rolling Stones never lost their desire to rock out.
Why Sting might consider reuniting with his old bandmates is a mystery, but it probably is because the drumbeat for such a concert tour has been loud and relentless, and perhaps he finally wore down.
A Police reunion would help music fans forget the obscure meanderings of Summer and Copeland as well as Sting’s gradual sink into mainstream ooze and remind everyone that there was once a band that blasted onto the scene with the kind of power and excitement that can be summed up in one bellow of a prostitute’s name: