The Police: A Fragile Truce
Sting swore the Police would never reunite. What brought the Police together again, and how long can it last?
DAVID FRICKE, Posted Jun 14, 2007 1:39 PM. This is an excerpt from the latest issue of Rolling Stone, on stands until June 28th.
The music is lean and gleaming, an instantly familiar fury of hyper-reggae drive and hit-record choruses. The Police are rehearsing for their first tour in twenty-three years in a gymnasium in Vancouver. Opening night is a week away, in a local arena. But the Police sound better than ready, tight and implausibly fresh - as long as they keep playing. The first two numbers, "Message in a Bottle" and "Synchronicity II," go by in perfect blurs. "Spirits in the Material World" does not.
Sting, sitting on a wooden stool as he sings and plays bass, abruptly cuts the song in mid-chorus. "Is there another way to play that chord?" he says, looking across the stage at guitarist Andy Summers, who calmly asks why. "There's a fluff in there, to be honest," Sting replies bluntly. Then he turns to drummer Stewart Copeland. "Is that the right tempo?" Sting asks, adding with polite authority, "Let's try it again." So it goes for the next two hours. Sting repeatedly hits the brakes, fussing with the groove or Summers' guitar tone. At one point, Sting and Summers debate a three-note lick in "Walking in Your Footsteps" for half an hour. Sting has Summers play it over and over, in different ways. Summers obliges with the poise of one who's been here before.
"It's all in the detail," Sting says after rehearsal, without apology, in his kingly hotel suite complete with a working fireplace and the roaring fire to prove it. At fifty-five, he still looks much as he does in Police photos from 1978: Fit and blond, with his hair cut in a short, even burr on top, like a low-altitude mohawk. "Andy and Stewart may disagree with me," he goes on. "They think we should jam more. I want the details to be precise." Sting, who was the band's dominant songwriter, is frank in explaining why he has reunited the Police and committed to a world tour that goes into next March: "to go back, retrace those steps and make the band better. I have played these songs for years. I know things about the music I didn't know then or couldn't express. I'm a better bandleader now than I was then."
When the Police dissolved, without public announcement, in March 1984, after five albums and more than seven years on the road, they were the biggest trio in rock, a sellout stadium act with eight Top Twenty U.S. singles. Their final studio album, 1983's Synchronicity, had spent seventeen weeks at Number One in Billboard. (Police album sales now total over 22 million in the U.S.) Copeland, Sting and Summers were also at each other's throats, as famous for their tempers as for their explosive shows. In his 2006 memoir, One Train Later, Summers recalls a blowup during the sessions for Ghost in the Machine: "Sting goes berserk on me, calling me every name under the sun with considerable vehemence, leaving everyone in the room white-faced and in shock." Copeland says his 2006 documentary, Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out - compiled from reels of Super-8 film he shot during the band's first lifetime - has no footage of actual fighting, "because Sting works out. He used to run, like, twenty miles a day then. If you're trying to squeeze the life out of him, it takes two hands, with no free hand to film. So I never got that shot." But in Vancouver, there are no raised voices or fisticuffs. A tall, brassy American as loud and direct in his opinions as Sting is cool and fixed in his, Copeland, 54, is blase about the British bassist's attention to minutiae. "We'll be fiddling with tempos," he says," until sound check on the night of the first show."