We're still wrapped around their fingers

ON POPULAR MUSIC

March 22, 2007|By RASHOD D. OLLISON

Hot Springs, Ark. Camelot Records & Tapes, circa 1984. My father and I are on our weekend ritual of record shopping. And on this Saturday afternoon, Daddy is perplexed by my choices, even a little upset. There isn't a black artist among the three 45s I choose, and the one LP I select is Synchronicity by the Police.

"Son," Daddy says, wrinkling his nose at the album, "this is white-boy music. You don't want Lionel Richie, Stephanie Mills?"

I look at my father as if he has completely lost his mind. "That's the Police, Daddy. They're on MTV."

He sighs and pays for the records anyway. And I can't wait to get home and check out the album that features my favorite Police jam, the bass-thick "Wrapped Around Your Finger," which at the time receives spins on urban radio. The atmospheric video - Sting decked out in white, bouncing through a maze of dripping candles - is a constant on MTV, which my sisters and I watch religiously.

The next year, after 7 million other people buy Synchronicity, the trio of Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers disbands. Now, after more than 20 years of inactivity, the experimental pop-rock group has reunited for a worldwide summer tour, which officially begins May 28 in Vancouver. A July 20 date in Hershey, Pa., is the closest the Police are coming to the Baltimore-Washington area so far.

The day after the trio's spirited opening performance on the Grammy Awards in February, the members announced the reunion, confirming the feverish rumors that had been swirling for months.

"They haven't played together in 23 years, so there's this aura out there that this tour is a one-time thing," says Bob Grossweiner, an independent New York-based touring industry analyst. "The Grammys performance was pure brilliant promotion. But by then, the tour was already in place."

Best Buy is the sponsor, and the neon-yellow price tag logo will be highly visible in the stadiums and arenas the Police will play this summer. Also at each venue, Best Buy will host a lounge area called the Police Station. The company has sponsored major tours by Elton John and the Rolling Stones.

"We look at chances to associate ourselves with artists who have a deep emotional connection with our customers," says Best Buy spokesman Brian Lucas. "We don't sponsor a concert to just sponsor a concert."

Sure they don't. It's just the ones that are practically guaranteed to generate insane amounts of dough. Ticket prices for the Police shows are between $50 and $225. And most dates have sold out immediately.

"I was ready to drop a couple of hundred dollars to see the Police at Madison Square Garden," says Brooklyn-based hip-hop producer J. Period. "I waited the next day, and it was all sold out. It's the show to see this summer."

Indeed it is. We're talking about a group that helped define an era, a band whose adventurous music deftly melded elements of rock, jazz, New Wave and hefty chunks of reggae. It was a singular, inventive sound that spanned five strong studio albums: Outlandos d'Amour (1978), Reggata de Blanc (1979), Zenyatta Mondatta (1980), Ghost in the Machine (1981) and Synchronicity (1983).

"So much about music has changed in that time," J. Period says. "Technology has created a million and one ways to get music out there, and in that you lose some of the artistry. Now that you can get three guys to pick up instruments and play this incredible music, it's amazing to the current generation that's used to computer-generated beats and computer-generated voices."

Even at the Police's peak, much of the music heating the charts was plastic and heavily synthesized. So the band's energetically organic approach stood out even then. And in the years since the group's split, after Sting became a superstar and his approach edged toward pomposity, the Police catalog has retained its freshness.

Listening to classics such as "Roxanne," "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic" and "Don't Stand So Close to Me" brings back childhood memories of Atari games, Jungle Juice and Now-or-Later candies. But the songs transcend nostalgia. And who knows how long we have to wait to see the Police perform again?

"You can't think of any other group that waited 23 years to tour and instantly sell out shows," Grossweiner says. "The higher the ticket prices, the more they seem to sell. People want to see history reinterpreted."

rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

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