The Police, Zenyatta Mondatta
Walking the fine line between experimentation and exhaustion
The third in a series of titles in Pig Esperanto, meaning essentially nothing, though always a topic for lively discussion on Internet message boards. (One thing is for sure: it is the source of the name of the beloved near-perfect race horse Zenyatta, owned by A&M Records' co-founder Jerry Moss.) As an album, it's a mixed bag: some great fast reggae ("Don't Stand So Close to Me"), the energetic pop of "Canary in a Coalmine," and the lush "When the World is Running Down" are among some of the band's best songs. But experimentation gives way to exhaustion on other tracks: Sting's "Man in a Suitcase" appears to be both about and a symptom of their back-breaking touring schedule. "Voices Inside My Head" is a workmanlike sketch using African-sounding guitar and vocals mixed way back to resemble a chant; Middle Eastern motifs emerge in Summers' solo in "Bombs Away," a song by Copeland that's prescient in its assessment of "unpaid bills in Afghanistan hills." The Middle Eastern musical theme is also evident in "Behind My Camel," a Summers-composed instrumental evoking the North African desert, but its relevance is just a mirage. The coup de grace (to use a phrase in Sting's frequently-favored French) is the band's first top 10 U.S. hit: "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da." No relation to the German band Trio's 1982 new wave hit, "Da Da Da," though the point should be made. Did radio programmers appeal to the lowest common denominator of their audience's intelligence? Weren't they right? In the 30 years since, the deepest thinkers at the Academy for the Study of Rock Lyrics have deconstructed, reconstructed and post-modernized these lyrics, and have come to conclude that "De Do Do Do" means "De Do Do Do." And so forth.