Turn on my VCR
Same one I've had for years
James Brown, the "T.A.M.I. Show"
Same tape I've had for years
-- The Police, "Zenyatta Mondatta"
Listening to the Police's new album, "Ghost in the Machine," you half expect Mr. Dynamite himself to come snake-legging out of the woodwork, sweat spilling from his six- inch pompadour to his satin jumpsuit emblazoned "SEX." The sensation is partly the result of bassist Sting's cheesy, sleazy sax riffing -- pure adolescent horniness (he only picked up the instrument eight months ago). But it takes more than drive and swagger to plumb the bawdy soul of rock and roll, and "Ghost" manipulates the slippery essence of the form's mystery and moods with easy energy. Produced by the Police and Hugh Padgham, the record has so much echo it seems to have been made in the bowels of an empty parking garage. But the way the sound has of enveloping its listener has a certain intimate appeal, something akin to being the only attendant at a concert. There is constant movement throughout "Ghosts." Floating political and sexual themes sweep around and through the songs in a subliminal cyclone of word association. Both music and lyrics allude and allude again, but seldom to their most obvious referents. Knife-clean synthesizer rhythms open "Spirits in the Material World," and the band cuts straight to the core of the lyrics in the opening lines: "There's no political solution / To our troubled evolution." Unlike George Harrison's "Living in the Material World" -- essentially a lament -- the tune's antipolitics suggest there's freedom in the acceptance of physical mortality, an idea more firmly conveyed when drummer Stewart Copeland snaps the chorus to life. "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" sparkles with bright, calliope-like poppishness; its lyrics bring to mind the optimistic romanticism of the Hollies' "Bus Stop." Repeated listening, however, reveals it to be the album's most specious composition: this year's "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da." The pop feeling continues to carry Side A with "Invisible Sun," a sociological discourse with a touch of early Traffic, and "Hungry for You," an interesting bit of bilingual horseplay set against Sting's overdubbed sax and Copeland's funky percussion. Either my French is on a hopeless downward spiral, or this song is danceable romantic vampirism. "Demolition Man" ends the side, a steamroller of a tune that could well be subtitled "Qaddafi's Theme." Sting's "nya nya" sax backdrop, Andy Summers' nasty guitar cackles and the ornery syncopation of the chorus give the lyrics a mean-spirited punch; there's even a false ending for good measure. "Too Much Information," opening Side B, is typical Police sociology, along the lines of "De Do Do Do" and "When the World Is Running Down," but it's about here that the deus ex machina hinted at on "Invisible Sun" begins to come into focus. "Rehumanize Yourself," which follows, is clearly the message at work on "Ghost." The best lyrics are unprintable, but they're also the best lines on the album. Then comes the musical centerpiece, "One World (Not Three)." A spunky combination of rock and rub-a-dub, the song has a knee- dipping sound along the lines of African pop singer Fela Anikulapo Kuti, with the greasy, delayed-timing sax chorus of vintage James Brown. The theme that "one world is enough for all of us" is idealistic, almost banally so, but it gains authority from the global reach of the music. It's a bit downhill from "One World," though the slope is nearly imperceptible. "Omegaman" is the flip side, ideologically, of "Demolition Man." "Secret Journey" exhorts us once again to look to the spirit and rehumanize: "When you take your secret jo wears uniform dye jobs and lapses into "doo-das" and "ee- ohs" at the drop of a rim shot. I'm also wary of a supergroup that confines the bulk of its concert tours to the Third World for the sake of humanism while giving frank indications of a healthy capitalistic appetite. But how to argue with a group that offers sexy, politically charged, accessible pop, whose music inflames where their lyrics miss the spark, and vice versa, whose style looks fearlessly ahead and still keeps moving? That, after all, is what we used to call rock and roll.
THE ALBUM -- The Police, "Ghost in the Machine," A&M SP 3730.