[Review] The Police: Outlandos d’Amour (1978)

Sounding like a cross between Cheap Trick and The Clash, The Police burst on the scene with this brilliant, energized debut.

Kronomyth 1.0: Three babylon.

This is one of the first albums I owned as a kid and I played the snot out of it. Same thing with Zenyatta Mondatta. I fell hard for The Police from the moment I saw the video for Roxanne. Most thirteen-year-old boys didn’t fantasize about being Joe Strummer or Rick Nielsen or Joe Jackson. But Sting? Yeah, that would work.

Of course, The Police had all the right connections. And they weren’t exactly kids; Andy Summers was 35 when Outlandos d’Amour was recorded, and Stewart Copeland had already logged in some serious rock & roll miles as a road manager for Curved Air and Joan Armatrading. The band’s fresh take on the punk/reggae phenomenon, fashionable appearance and unquestionable talent made them an instant sensation.

On their first album, The Police hadn’t completely abandoned the idea of being a punk band. Next to You, Peanuts and Truth Hits Everybody are all high-energy numbers that could have passed for punk in 1978. The band was equally interested in playing reggae in a crisp and sophisticated style, heard on So Lonely, Can’t Standing Losing You and, most famously, “Roxanne.” These songs became the singles from their first album and, thus, were most closely associated with the Police “sound.” People who picked up the album also discovered the band had a sense of musical adventure and humor, as heard on Be My Girl/Sally (featuring Summer’s bawdy tale of an inflatable doll) and the closing Masoko Tanga, which combines African rock with Sting’s speaking in tongues.

As brilliant an album as it is, Outlandos d’Amour is still a bit rough around the edges. Born in the 50’s and “Be My Girl” are underdeveloped ideas. Sting’s attempts to grab for something deeper in his vocals sounds like a man clearing his throat. And while I’m picking on Sting, his bass playing needs to get better if the band is going to continue as a trio. (It did, and you couldn’t reasonably expect the man to do everything perfectly.)

Outlandos d’Amour is not The Police’s best album. Neither is The Clash, My Aim Is True or Look Sharp the best album by their respective artists. But did The Police ever record a song better than “Roxanne?” Or The Clash “London Burning?” Or “Is She Really Going Out With Him” or “Alison?” These albums are like first loves, attaining a kind of mythic status even as our memory of them fades. Returning to them after so many years, we fall in love with them again, our old passions rekindled, the lost paramours of illicit youth. Moving seamlessly from the poetic to the pedantic, the album was originally released in three color variations (red, yellow, green) resembling a stop light, while the US version removed the highway lines that emanated from Andy Summer’s head.

Original elpee version

A1. Next to You (2:50)
A2. So Lonely (4:49)
A3. Roxanne (3:12)
A4. Hole in My Life (4:52)
A5. Peanuts (Sting/Stewart Copeland) (3:58)
B1. Can’t Stand Losing You (2:58)
B2. Truth Hits Everybody (2:53)
B3. Born in the 50’s (3:40)
B4. Be My Girl (Sting) / Sally (Andy Summers) (3:22)
B5. Masoko Tanga (5:40)

Songs written by Sting unless noted. All songs arranged by The Police.

Original 8-track version
A1. Next to You
A2. Roxanne
A3. Be My Girl–Sally
B1. So Lonely
B2. Hole in My Life
C1. Can’t Stand Losing You
C2. Truth Hits Everybody
C3. Born in the 50s
D1. Peanuts
D2. Masoko Tanga

The Players

Stewart Copeland (drums), Sting (bass & vocals), Andy Summers (guitar, piano, voice on B4). Produced by The Police; engineered by Nigel and Chris Gray.

The Pictures

Art direction by Michael Ross. Photography by Janette Beckman. Design by Les May.

The Products

Released on elpee, cassette and 8-track in October 1978 in the UK and the Netherlands (A&M, AMLH 68502), Australia (A&M, L36814), Japan (A&M, AMP-6039) and Portugal (A&M, 2 PSP 4753) and in February 1979 in the US and Canada (A&M, SP/CS/8T-4753). Reached #6 on the UK charts and #23 on the US charts (RIAA-certified platinum record). Original album cover was available in red, yellow and green variations.

  1. Re-issued on compact disc in 1984 in Europe (A&M, 394 753-2).
  2. Re-issued on compact disc and cassette in the US (A&M, CD/CS-3311).
  3. Re-issued on compact disc in August 1991 in Europe (A&M, CDMID 126).
  4. Re-released on remastered compact disc in 2003 in Europe and the US (A&M, 493 652-2).
  5. Re-released on 25th anniversary remastered super audio compact disc in 2003 in the US (A&M, STDDPOLICE ST01).
  6. Re-released on 30th anniversary remastered compact disc on January 24, 2007 in Japan (A&M, UICY-93189).
  7. Re-released on super high material compact disc on November 19, 2008 in Japan (A&M, UICY-93835).

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