The Police saved the best for last with 1983’s Synchronicity, ending their short five year and five album recording career with their masterpiece. And although the album was once again co-produced by Hugh Padgham, as on 1981’s Ghost In the Machine, it marked a significant shift away from the dominant reggae/ska influences of the band’s first four albums. The album got it’s title from the theory of synchronicity by Carl Jung, who believed that life was not a series of random events but rather an expression of a deeper order, which led to the insights that a person was both embedded in an orderly framework and was the focus of that orderly framework. The end result was a potent blend that hit all the major criteria (in our opinion, of course) that make a truly great album – an entertaining, original, timely, cerebral, and human collection of music. For these reasons, Synchronicity is our clear choice for 1983’s album of the year.
Like many great albums, Synchronicity was born out of struggle and strife. The marriages of both bassist/vocalist Sting and guitarist Andy Summers had recently failed and, after half a decade of constant touring and recording, the once tight-knit trio had begun to conflict with each other. The group took a break in 1982 in order to pursue outside projects. Sting was starting to land bit parts in films while Summers collaborated with former King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp on the instrumental album I Advance Masked. Drummer Stewart Copeland composed the musical score for the film Rumble Fish which spawned the radio hit single “Don’t Box Me In”. But as each member found their own success, that only served to widen wedge among The Police as a group and all had pretty much resolved that the band’s demise was soon imminent. So the group resolved to make a final masterpiece born out of the stress of the looming break-up. It wasn’t easy, as the three band members recorded their parts in separate rooms for the basic tracks and Padgham added subsequent overdubs with only one member in the studio at a time.
The result is diverse and daring, with the most experimental tracks of the album front-loaded on side one and the “hits” reserved for the second side. With this one last best shot of showing the world everything they were capable of doing, both in performance and production. The music contains a plethora of rhythms, from reggae, blues, and African to straight up pop/rock, while the theme is about things past or ending and the scope migrates from the global to the personal.
Synchronicity by The Police
|Released: June 1, 1983 (A & M)
Produced by: Hugh Padgham & The Police
Recorded: Le Studio, Quebec, Canada, December 1982-February 1983
|Side One||Side Two|
Walking In Your Footsteps
O My God
|Every Breath You Take
King of Pain
Wrapped Around Your Finger
Tea In the Sahara
Murder By Numbers
|Sting – Lead Vocals, Bass, Keyboards, Oboe, Saxophone
Andy Summers – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Stewart Copeland – Drums & Percussion
“Synchronicity I” starts the album with a synthesized arpeggio pattern accented by a driving bass and drum beat. It is a rather simple and direct (albeit frantic) piece with some multi-vocal parts and harmonies by Sting that lyrically introduce Jung’s theory of the “collective unconscious”. “Walking In Your Footsteps” follows with native percussion and a good melody above the oddest of simplistic arrangements. The lyrics relate extinct dinosaurs to modern day humans and the then-common theme of humanity’s ultimate nuclear destruction.
The first song on the album to contain a somewhat traditional arrangement, “O My God” is bass driven throughout with a bit of funk guitar chords, some light synth pads, and strong and soulful vocals. The song is a real showcase for Sting with the bass, the anguished lyrics and voice, and the outtro saxophone solo above an improvised-sounding ending. “Mother” is a Summers composition that sounds like a cross between The Velvet Underground and Alice Cooper. Summers vocals are raw, yet weirdly entertaining and some horn sounds are added to intensify the “insanity vibe”. Copeland gets his own composition with “Miss Gradenko”, a return musically to the band’s reggae / new wave fusion. Short and deliberate with a great bass and very measured but effective lead guitar, the lyrics tell of a romance in the middle of a communist bureaucracy wrought by paranoia in the Kremlin.
“Synchronicity II” is the best song on the album and the one song were The Police break into a full-fledged, hard rock arrangement. From the beginning wailing vocals of Sting to the fantastic guitar textures by Summers, switching from chords to note patterns seamlessly. The musical tone follows the lyrics closely, which describe a man’s working day and domestic life and compares it to the seemingly unrelated Loch Ness monster, making this a more true title song than “Synchronicity I”. Overall, this song which reached the Top 20 on both sides of the Atlantic, sounds like no other Police song and is a true classic of the 1980s.
The album’s second side begins with “Every Breath You Take”, a song almost totally built on Summers’ sonic texture with Sting’s simplistic rhyming on top. The bridge contains some well-placed piano notes and Copeland shows great restraint by the utter basic-ness of his drum beat, on this song which is actually rather up-tempo but deceptively throws a vibe of a ballad. Overall, “Every Breath You Take” became one of most successful singles ever, topping the Billboard charts for nine weeks and the song won Song of the Year at the 1984 Grammy Awards.
“King of Pain” is a simple sing-song tune which morphs into a Caribbean grove accented by some more pure rock. The song displays the instrumental genius of the band and production quality of Padgham and contains a rather traditional (and excellent) rock guitar lead by Summers. Lyrically, Sting references painful everyday occurrences to symbolize the frustrations of everyday life with the narrator sees his fate as predetermined. “Wrapped Around Your Finger” is a classic ballad with excellent ambiance, sort of like “Every Breath You Take” from a different point of view – but with superior lyrics which references mythological and literary characters.
The bass driven “Tea in the Sahara” concluded the original LP (which omitted “Murder By Numbers”) and kind of brings the overall scene to a conclusion in the desert. Sting’s performance is more solo than anywhere else on the album, with the bass leading the way and the lyrics based on the novel The Sheltering Sky. A long drum intro starts the closer “Murder by Numbers”, co-written by Sting and Summers. The tune eventually fully kicks in as a cabret number with lyrics comparing political power to the development of a serial killer.
Synchronicity reached number one in many countries and was nominated for the “Album of the Year” Grammy. The Police set off on a world on a year-long world tour, which ended with a hiatus that was effectively the end of the group. The trio did reconvene in 1986 to record a new album, but after a half-hearted attempt, that project was abandoned. The Police would not fully reunite until 2007, over two decades after their break.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1983 albums.