Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

3WA 2018 #48: The Police – Ghost in the Machine

Deciding the roster for this year’s project required a number of decisions regarding artists who appear under more than one project. David Bowie could’ve been represented in the roster by Tin Machine. Several people were represented by Genesis. Robert Plant could’ve been represented by Led Zeppelin. Chris Cornell was represented by Audioslave but I could have selected a Soundgarden record instead.

And then there was the question of what to do about Sting.

What is it?

Ghost in the Machine is the 1981 album release by The Police, aka That Band Sting Was In For A Few Years Early On.

How does it sound?

Every little sampler mix is magic:

Why this pick?

And here we go.

My intention for this project’s album line-up was to balance out 52 records across four decades, more-or-less evenly, as close to 13 selections per decade as I could get. Due to the way other artists’ selections (for various reasons) filled up later decades rather quickly, this meant that for Sting it was always going to be something in the 1980s. But… I don’t feel strongly enough about his first two solo records to focus on those, and for all that it’s the much-renowned last hurrah of The Police, I don’t actually like Synchronicity that much. Is that a blasphemous musical opinion? Okay. I don’t mind a bit of blasphemy on occasion.

Through a weird kind of process of elimination, then, I picked Ghost in the Machine. It’s still almost entirely a Sting record, but not as much as Synchronicity while still more so than the first few albums from the band. And some of the non-Sting bits here are among my favorite Police tracks.

Which songs are the highlights?

“Spirits in the Material World” and “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” are, of course, stupendous pop songs. I still like them, more so now that it’s been a while since they were on the radio every single day.

“Invisible Sun” and “Secret Journey” are my favorite two songs on the record. “Omegaman” (by Andy Summers) and “Darkness” (by Stewart Copeland) are good tunes in their own right, and make me wish that The Police hadn’t devolved into The Sting Show quite so quickly as they did.

I’ll throw in an honorable mention for “Demolition Man” as well. It’s better in its later live renditions but the original has some charm to it.

Which songs don’t work so well?

Why am I not a bigger Police fan? Because I don’t really like reggae, and “One World (Not Three)” leans heavily on that style. The band’s whole early sound was a kind of reggae-rock hybrid, the sort of thing No Doubt would try to do with ‘ska’ in a later decade. No, I didn’t like them all that much, either.

I’m not sure what about “Too Much Information” puts me off, but it puts me quite off. Probably the combination of vocal delivery and repetitiveness. Sure, we’ll go with that.

I go back and forth on the mostly-French-language “Hungry For You.” This time around, it’s back rather than forth.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

I considered Zenyatta Mondatta, the album just prior to this, but I really can’t stand “Don’t Stand So Close To Me.” In which case, to stay in the 1980s, I’d have gone with the sophomore solo record from Sting, …Nothing Like The Sun. Hey, my very first big-name concert experience was at a truly awful venue (the old Civic Center) in downtown Seattle in support of that record.

Were my memory any better I’d write up my concert-going experiences, but. Alas.

Any final thoughts?

One thing about Sting’s pop song crafting sensibilities I didn’t learn to appreciate until much later is that punk quality of getting in, landing the hook a few times, then getting out again briskly. Several of the songs here clock in under three minutes and only a few run past the four minute mark. In my teen years I wanted every song to last forever, hence the massive collection of extended remix singles, but now? I admire a song that doesn’t wear out its welcome. (Admittedly, the longest track here is “Demolition Man,” which… could probably have been half to two thirds as long and been better for it.)

I’m gettin’ old, I guess.



  1. Cheryl

    I haven’t thought about this album in so long, I’d actually gotten confused about what tracks where on there. (It was melding with Zenyatta Mondatta in my memory-challenged brain.) The Police seems like it was a lifetime ago. I guess in some respects, it was.

    Now I kind of want to dig out my old Police CDs.

    • Karel Kerezman

      I have the “Message In A Box” set, thanks to my old radio gig. All the Police anyone could want, all in one inconvenient package. (It’s one of those weird tall book-shaped things.) I only have about 2/3 of it ripped to digital versions, partly because a lot of the early stuff and later live bits don’t interest me and partly because early on in my music-purchasing life I bought the Ultradisc version of Synchronicity. D’oh.

  2. Wonderduck

    I don’t know how blasphemous not being a fan of Synchronicity is. I mean, I’ll always have great memories of it, being my introduction to the band and all (much like I’ll always enjoy ABACAB for really introducing me to Genesis). However, I’ve found that the “True Fans” really don’t like Synchronicity very much. Part of it is snobbish “they were better before this” attitude, of course, but I think there’s also some truth behind it.

    I mean, I’m the wrong person to be talking about The Police and/or Sting, but if I had to listen to one Police album, it probably WOULDN’T be Synchronicity. And I’m not sure why that’d be.

    • Karel Kerezman

      Yeah, it’s a weird thing. Were they “better” before Synchronicity? Really? I’m not sure. It is, if nothing else, a superbly-crafted record made by people who had become decent craftsmen at that point. (My feelings about “their old stuff is the best stuff” are well documented in this post series, of course.)

      I think part of the problem is that too much of that record got way, way, way too much airplay. Especially “the stalker song.” Particularly “the stalker song.” You have to skip over several songs that wore out their welcome decades ago, and what you’re left with is hit-or-miss. “Tea in the Sahara” and “Murder By Numbers” are still great, “O My God” and “Miss Gradenko” much less so.

      Meh. A lot of my problem here is that I have a complicated relationship with Sting as an artist. Used to love him, have since kind of wandered off, and now a lot of his work leaves me tired or bored. Which is a shame because he really is a brilliant songsmith. I still listen to “A Thousand Years” fairly often, for instance.

      I dunno. Blah blah, moving along now.

      • Wonderduck

        “Tired and bored.”

        Yes, quite so. Once the Police broke up (“I was brought up to respect police… I don’t respect them now.”) and Sting went insane, he lost me. By “Songs from the Labyrinth”, I actively disliked him.

        Clever idea… too clever.

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