Zenyatta Mondatta

The Police

A&M, 1980


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


On the covers of the Police’s first two albums Outlandos D’Amour and Reggatta De Blanc, Andy Summers, Stewart Copeland and Sting all face the camera. On the cover of Zenyatta Mondatta, they are positioned within a triangle, all looking in different directions, Sting in profile looking firmly away from the other two. And if you think that’s coincidence -- well, you’re probably right.

But intentionally or not, the cover of ZM deftly illustrates the band dynamics taking hold even as the Police were recording and releasing the album that would turn them from hit-making Brits into global superstars. When you look at the covers of their last two studio albums -- Ghost In The Machine, where they aren’t pictured at all, and Synchronicity, where each is pictured in a completely separate setting, isolated from the other two -- the storyline of this band is complete.

Zenyatta Mondatta is the first Police album that Sting thoroughly dominates, writing eight of the eleven songs and not co-writing any of the tracks with either drummer Stewart Copeland or guitarist Andy Summers. At the same time, it’s the album on which the band’s emerging sound came into full flower, punk energy largely subsumed within jazzy sophistication and technical panache, songs more often full of serious purpose than inside jokes or reggae-themed vamping.

None of the above should be taken to imply this is a bad album, though…quite the opposite. However awkward the context, ZM contains some of the band’s very best material. Leadoff cut and single “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” is one of those seemingly effortless hits that is greater than the sum of its parts, a deceptively simple student-teacher crush vignette over a repeating melody. But Summers’ guitar is rich with echo and evocative effects and Sting’s lyric is full of repressed tension and literary allusions, giving the song texture and depth.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Driven To Tears” follows and points the band in the new direction that would dominate their latter days – a serious, overtly political lyric addressing hunger and poverty laid over a skittering bed of jazzy rhythms and cascading guitar flourishes. Only Summer’s concise, nearly atonal solo disrupts the smooth flow of the song, coming off in this context like an almost primal plea for attention.

The middle section of the album is again dominated by Sting tunes that feature rich pop hooks over intricate rhythm patterns, with Summers’ shimmering bursts of guitar painting the melodies. “When The World Is Running Down, You Make The Best Of What’s Still Around” achieves a kind of hypnotic giddiness with its circular bass and vocal lines. “Canary In A Coalmine” has a punky doubletime beat, but its melody and arrangement is all poppy confection, with one of Sting’s goofier lyrics suggesting he hasn’t completely lost his sense of humor -- yet. Veering off in the opposite tonal direction, “Voices Inside My Head” echoes the atmospheric tension of “Bring On The Night” with spooky guitar over a jazzy, elastic rhythm pattern.

The first non-Sting track shows up at #6 as Copeland delivers the biting political parody “Bombs Away,” its shambling energy counterpointing the increasing muted elegance of Sting’s compositions. Sting answers with “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da Da,” the last really funny song of his Police career, and a gem of a pop song at that.

The last four tunes of the album serve to illustrate the growing divide between the individual band members. Summers and Copeland each contribute jazzy, experimental instrumental tracks (the Grammy-winning “Behind My Camel” and “The Other Way Of Stopping”), while Sting delivers a zippy, stick-in-your-head pop tune with a lonely edge (“Man In A Suitcase”) and a spare, atmospheric track showcasing his own vocals (“Shadows In The Rain”).

The band has said many times since this album was released that they wished they’d had more time to focus on production. The final mix is indeed very trebly and yet muddy in places, the songs emerging in spite of rather than because of their sonic treatment. Even remastering doesn’t seem to have helped much.

Despite the already-evident splintering of the band’s musical interests and focus, the Police nonetheless found themselves catapulted to international stardom by the success of Zenyatta Mondatta as it spun off single after single. It was yet another break-through-to-the-next-level moment for a group that managed to string together just enough of them to break up at the very zenith of its career.

Rating: A-

User Rating: B+



© 2007 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of A&M, and is used for informational purposes only.