Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Police - Zenyatta Mondatta

Today (October 3rd) marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of Zenyatta Mondatta, the third studio album from the Police. This 1980 Platinum selling release went to number 14 in Austria, number 8 in Sweden, number 5 in Germany, number 3 in New Zealand, number 2 in Canada and the Netherlands, and number 1 in Australia, France and the UK. Here in the US, it spent one hundred and fifty-three weeks on the US Billboard Album chart, peaking at number 5.

Side one begins with “Don’t Stand So Close to Me”, which won a Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group. As the lead single, it went to number 40 in Italy, number 23 in Germany, number 10 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 7 in France, number 5 in Spain, number 3 in Australia and the Netherlands, number 2 in Canada and New Zealand, and number 1 in Ireland and the UK. The lyrics tell the tale of a young girl who is awkwardly infatuated with her teacher, and the inappropriateness of the lustful feelings he develops towards her. Sting has stated that he was in a similar situation during his time as a teacher. For all you literary types, he name-drops Vladimir Nabokov whose novel Lolita has a similar theme. I like how the track starts out very stripped down through the first verse and then builds to the chorus.

“Driven to Tears”, a song about the divide between the rich and the poor, was not released as a single, but it did hit number 35 on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. Like the opening track, this one has a solid rhythm to it that really keeps my attention.

“When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What’s Still Around”, a mouthful of a title to be sure, is next. I remember the rock stations would include this one in those “rock blocks” of three or so songs. It really helps that this album opens with a number of solid tracks because, back in the days of vinyl, it helped when the block could be played off a single turntable spin.

“Canary in a Coalmine” was another favorite deep-cut of mine. The whole imagery of the song - of the use of canaries in a coalmine to determine if there was sufficient oxygen levels to work – is really genius to describe someone who is light-headed or ditzy.

“Voices Inside My Head” is the first of the (mostly) instrumental tracks on the record; the only lyrics are a repeated chorus by Sting that flits along in the background. It has a very funky bass line to it.

“Bombs Away”, written by Stuart Copeland, refers to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.

Side two starts with “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da”. Released as the second single, it peaked at number 49 in Italy, number 15 in Germany, number 10 in the Netherlands and on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 9 in France, number 8 in New Zealand, number 6 in Australia, number 5 in Canada and the UK, and number 2 in Ireland and Spain. This one got a ton of airplay on both the pop and rock stations that I listened to out of Buffalo; it really surprises me it only got to number 10. I guess since this was still in the pre-MTV era that it failed to have that extra “boost” so many of the early 80’s video era acts got upon their single releases.

“Behind My Camel” won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. Here, Andy Summers took over the bass guitar duties from lead singer Sting; Summers also wrote the track. It has a heavy, dark grind to it that makes it stand-out from the rest of the record. I think it would have made a great mood piece on some 80’s drama soundtrack.

“Man in a Suitcase” continues to show the reggae influence of the band’s earlier records.

“Shadows in the Rain” is up next. It goes very well with the previous track as they both have a similar, laid back sound. I probably did not hear much of these songs back in the day as often the tail end of side two got so little love from the deejays.

The album closes with another instrumental track. “The Other Way of Stopping”, whose title comes from a line from a Bob Newhart comedy routine, was written by Stuart Copeland. No surprise then that the track features a complex drum pattern by Copeland himself. Again, I can see this working well in an 80’s film.

Zenyatta Mondatta was recorded during a four week period between two world tours, and the band members have stated they felt it was not one of their best efforts. Me personally, I rather like the album a lot. I heard it plenty of times during high school (thanks to my older brother and the local rock radio station) as well as my first few years of college (it was a campus favorite). I finally picked up a copy on CD back in 2009 (along with the band’s other albums). I find it fairly solid from start to finish.

For more from the Police, click here.


Mark said...

I don't think it fares well as an album as a whole, but 4 of my top 10 Police songs come from it:

Don't Stand So Close to Me
Canary in a Coalmine
De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da
When the World is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around

Complete list can be found here.

HERC said...

I guess I'm with Mark on this one - half the songs on Zenyatta Mondatta are really, really good - so good that the other ones pale in comparison.

In my humble opinion, there are only three Police albums worth listening to from start to finish:
Ghost In The Machine
and HERC's M!X of select tracks from their first three albums.