THE POLICE, ZENYATTA MONDATTA, 1980
Peter Buck once said in the liner notes of Dead Letter Office that "If you grew up in the 1970s, you liked Aerosmith." I think the same thing could be said about The Police. I was lucky to go to a small school with a class of kids who had unusually highly developed tastes in music (we had all had mandatory, daily music class in elementary and middle school-- it was conservatory-level music theory for everyone) but there were still factions and arguments about what bands were cool or not. I can't remember anyone ever saying anything negative about The Police. They crossed all genres; they were the one tape everyone could agree on for a road trip or a party soundtrack.
This track closes the band's third album. It's a throwaway instrumental, one of two on side two. Zenyatta has a ton of padding on it-- it reminds me of a Van Halen record in that way. It has half an album's worth of classics, and the band just stretched and filled and noodled around until they had 35 minutes and could sell it as an album. Also, like Beatles For Sale (another mid-career, padded album) the band sounds a little tired, drained from the road and going nonstop for three years. Still, it's the last Police album that sounds like it was made by a little indie band instead of World Superstars. In the case of Zenyatta, I think the thrown-together quality is charming. The album has some of my favorite Police music on it (especially the first three tracks), even though it's not even remotely their best record.
This instrumental speaks, I think, to the band's universal appeal. It starts as a brooding bass and drum track, seeming to signal a doomy rocker, but then Andy Summers comes chiming in with a little guitar melody, and after 45 seconds or so, it's clear that what we're hearing is what we're gonna get. And it's bright and quick and propulsive and makes you want to drum the steering wheel.
The lead instrument on the track, without question, are the drums. Stewart Copeland's fills that signal the shifts from the A to B melodies are unmistakably him-- no one uses the drum flam like Copeland. The fill at ten seconds that introduces the guitar is one of my all-time favorites, period. I remember sitting at Chris Love's drumkit during breaks at band practice in high school trying to teach myself to play that fill. (I also tried to learn the fills in "Tom Sawyer"-- we'll cover Rush some other time.) I love the total absence of overdubs until the final minute-- it's a live track, essentially. It sounds like a warmup jam that the band decided would make for a funny coda to the album. It's also the only time that Andy would have the last word on a Police album-- his overdubbed guitars close the record with his skewed sense of melody, always the Police's secret weapon.
I don't know why, but Zenyatta Mondatta always reminds me distinctly of winter; I must have first heard it in February or something, because when this album comes on, my tactile memory is being either in a darkly-lit, overheated room in a sweater, or walking outside, freezing, with a Walkman on.
What are your favorite instrumental tracks?
I'm gonna take a few days off for the holidays-- have a great one, enjoy this first batch of tunes, and I'll see you at the end of the month. Thanks so much for reading so far, and please invite others into the conversation. The more, the merrier. Peace and love to ya.