Wednesday, September 21, 2016

1983 - Synchronicity

Synchronicity, for all its power trio posings, is at its core a singer/songwriter LP. The instrumentation is stark and exotic, sometimes eerie, and the production values exemplary, Hugh Padham proving he was up to scratch, creating a gorgeous, brooding sonic masterpiece, but it's the lyrics that propel Synchronicity into the top spot for '83. Sting's storytelling prowess was never greater (more amusing maybe on Nothing Like the Sun and Ten Summoner’s Tales, but far less poetic). Tears for Fears garnered the same thoughtfulness, but no one, not even Springsteen, not Dylan, was more introspective: "There's a little black spot on the sun today (that's my soul up there)./ There's a flag pole rag and the wind won't stop (that's my soul up there)/ There's a king on a throne with his eyes torn out/ There's a blind man looking for a shadow of doubt,/ There's a rich man sleeping on a golden bed,/ There's a skeleton choking on a crust of bread." The lines are delivered with ironic flair, as if The Police were daring the doomsayers of the 20th century to take heart and find energy and hope anywhere they could.

From Summers' misaligned "Mother," a brilliant rubric against the underlying musical simplicity, to the eerie percussion of "Walking in Your Footsteps" (Copeland's finest moment, incorporating a prehistoric musical montage with Summers' sparse distant guitar swatches), Synchronicity was a group effort that effectively destroyed the unit while reifying The Police at their best. The dark, lyrical imagery in "King of Pain," and the contrasting verses in "Synchronicity II" capture perfectly the hell that is modern industrial society, with frightening allusions to the Loch Ness Monster shadowing a Scottish cottage or a grandmother screaming at the wall. (And in unison, like we were in church, we all sing "Shiny metal boxes," accentuating, as Sting does, the t in metal.

The gentle soft-rock mock-ballad "Every Breath She Takes" with its arpeggiated chords belies the dark underbelly of Sting's lyrics; essentially the anthem of a stalker. Predatory though the lyrics may be, the melody in his delivery and the overall structure make it the most accessible song the band ever released. (And couldn't it just have been about love? – There's the poignancy.)

The album is so consistently brilliant on so many levels one can easily overlook Sting's intellectual pretensions on songs like "Synchronicity I": "If we share this nightmare,/ Then we can dream Spiritus Mundi" and on, "Walking in Your Footsteps”: "You consider me the young apprentice, caught between the Scylla and Charybdis." Or you may find it pure genius. 

A lot of music critics were polarized by this album; I find the controversy hogwash. The fact is that it not only holds up to the music of its time, it transcends the pop niche and explodes into the popular consciousness of rock music. Musically as well, the band moves in new directions, incorporating a wide array of keyboard effects and percussion, all of which add to the sense of unease found in the music. Only in the trance-like "Tea in The Sahara," in which the band reverts to its standard 3-piece format, is the listener afforded a release from the ever-escalating tension. Yet, despite its obvious strengths, the band could not quell the rising tides of dissent within its own ranks, as the trio's strongly conflicting personalities led to an all-too sudden demise. Synchronicity, the band's 5th album, was both a critical and commercial peak and ultimately their farewell.

It pains me to say that, at the time, while aware of the LP and buying into the MTV rotation, I was too cool for an album as commercially successful as Synchronicity. The drug-addled club kid me was all about ABC and Haircut 100 and Spandau Ballet, while the intellectual me was brooding over Joy Division and New Order, Tears for Fears and The The, and so I foolishly turned up my nose at Synchronicity. Here was an LP on par with Dark Side and Sgt. P, but I either wasn't paying attention or I'd turned my back. 

There was a Tiny Naylor's drive-in restaurant on Sunset and La Brea, and hanging over it one of the few rock billboards not on the Strip. I remember sitting in the drive-in, Tiny Naylor’s about to close for good, and the billboard above it was Synchronicity. It wasn’t one of my father's, he’d already moved on, opened an art collective in the ghost town of Jerome, Arizona. Or he may have been dead, I don’t remember, but I had a vision of him up there painting away. Maybe that melancholy vision pushed me away from the LP, IDK, but it wasn't for years that I truly embraced this LP. I'm embarrassed.