I’m usually one of the first people in the room to malign Sting’s solo work. His first few albums were alright, but then he sunk into the morass of adult contemporary M.O.R. in which a lot of aging rock stars find themselves. While that holds true, I am also one of the first in the room to laud his original band, The Police, in my opinion one of the best rock trios on the face of the earth. The Police’s combination of jazz, reggae and rock made for some of the best songs of the ’80s and certainly some of the most iconic. There’s “Roxanne,” for instance, and its inclusion in the Eddie Murphy film 48 Hours, and “Don’t Stand So Close to Me,” the song that led a bunch of pop fans to Lolita. But the darker, more political Ghost in the Machine would be one more higher step leading toward their biggest album ever, Synchronicity, the 29th biggest selling album of the decade. It would also be a huge leap forward in song style and maturity, the penultimate album before the Police would exit the scene on top of the world.
The album begins with three of the best songs the group has ever recorded, starting with the political “Spirits in the Material World.” The song was written over 25 years ago and is still relevant today.
“Our so called leaders speak
With words they try to jail you
They subjugate the meek
But it’s the rhetoric of failure.“
Sound familiar American citizens? The same holds true for the third song, “Invisible Sun,” written about the troubles in Northern Ireland. The droning keyboard sounds in the song make everything just a little bit dark to fit the mood. But just when you thought everything was hopeless, there’s the second song, “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” my favorite Police song ever. Sting is at his falsetto best, Stewart Copeland at his reggae steel drum best, and Andy Summers, relegated to more of a background part, is still the consummate professional. In high school, as I was forever unlucky in love, and pining for some girl I could never have, this song became my security blanket, as it proved to me, in some way, that even Sting shared my pain. Lyrics in this song are some of his best, including the oft-repeated “It’s a big enough umbrella, but it’s always me that ends up getting wet.” Sting would dip into the “Magic” well a few times in his solo career as an added coda to particular songs.
But those three gems aren’t all that make up the wonder of Ghost in the Machine. There’s also the ‘for French speakers only’ “Hungry for You,” the covered-by-Grace Jones “Demolition Man,” the fast moving duo of “Too Much Information” and “Rehumanize Yourself,” and the reggae inspired “One World (Not Three).” Andy Summers would also add the creepy “Omega Man” while Copeland would contribute the ballad, “Darkness.”
Ghost in the Machine might have been one of those albums that got more wear out of side A than side B in its vinyl incarnation, but the darkness and political messages throughout made it a perfect example of Reagan / Thatcher-age blues, depression and paranoia. Of course, we seem to be living in a similar if not worse age today, making Ghost in the Machine ripe for a revisit.