[Review] The Police: Zenyatta Mondatta (1980)

Sting’s intellectual and musical presence is stronger on their third (and arguably best) album.

Kronomyth 3.0: Zen and the yada of musical maintenance.

Sting the literate crusader and social crusader emerges on Zenyatta Mondatta. The references to Vladimir Nabokov (Don’t Stand So Close to Me), global suffering as theater (Driven to Tears) and the brutality of thought (De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da) were not the province of the average pop band. Add to that the increasingly sophisticated playing of The Police and you had what might have been the most perfect pop group since The Beatles.

I thought the trio’s first album, Outlandos d’Amour, was an instant classic, but they seemed to be running out of steam on Reggatta de Blanc. The group’s third album, however, might be the best thing they’ve ever done. It’s one of the few albums I consistently listen to from beginning to end, savoring every song along the way. Beyond the big hits, Canary in a Coalmine, Man in a Suitcase, Bombs Away and When the World Is Running Down… remain personal favorites of mine.

As I’m wont to mention, 1980 was a watershed year for music; an observation that may have more to do with my age at the time than what I sensed to be the imminence of 1984 and its social reckoning. Many artists were embracing world music at the time (Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel) and the electric guitar in particular was undergoing a metamorphosis from melody to texture. Zenyatta Mondatta embodies that future as well as any album, from its complex polyrhythms to its carefully sculpted guitar sounds. Even Sting had grown into a formidable force on bass guitar, so that at no point does a fourth player feel necessary.

One thing worth mentioning: with Zenyatta Mondatta, The Police had more or less become Sting’s band. You could argue it was ever so, but the songwriting seemed more balanced on earlier albums, whereas now the contributions from Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers feel like the work of a different band. Given the egos involved, this didn’t bode well for the future, despite the playful prancing about that constituted most of their music videos up to this point.

Original elpee version

A1. Don’t Stand So Close to Me (4:03)
A2. Driven to Tears (3:21)
A3. When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What’s Still Around (3:33)
A4. Canary in a Coalmine (2:24)
A5. Voices Inside My Head (3:51)
A6. Bombs Away (Stewart Copeland) (3:07)
B1. De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da (4:09)
B2. Behind My Camel (Andy Summers) (2:53)
B3. Man in a Suitcase (2:15)
B4. Shadows in the Rain (5:09)
B5. The Other Way of Stopping (Stewart Copeland) (3:21)

Songs written by Sting unless noted.

Original 8-track version
A1. Don’t Stand So Close to Me
A2. Driven to Tears
A3. Man in a Suitcase
B1. When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What’s Still Around
B2. Canary in a Coalmine
B3. Voices Inside My Head
C1. Bombs Away
C2. Behind My Camel
C3. The Other Way of Stopping
D1. De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da
D2. Shadows in the Rain

The Players

Stewart Copeland, Sting, Andy Summers. Produced by The Police and Nigel Gray; engineered by Nigel Gray.

The Pictures

Art direction by Michael Ross. Design by Michael Ross & Simon Ryan. Front cover photography by Janet Beckman. Back cover photography by Watal Asanuma, Miles Copeland, Danny Quatrochi. Inner sleeve photography by Danny Quatrochi, Watal Asanuma, Miles Copeland, Michael Ross, Janette Beckman, Anton Corbijn, Gabor Scott, Adrian Boot, Kim Turner, Akihiro Takayama.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and 8-track on October 3, 1980 in the UK and Israel (A&M, AMLH 64831), the US (A&M, SP/8T-4831), Australia (A&M, L-37377) and Japan (A&M, AMP-28011) with picture innersleeve. Reached #1 on the UK charts and #5 on the US charts (RIAA-certified double platinum record).

  1. Re-released on half-speed mastered elpee in the US (Nautilus, NR 19) with gatefold innersleeve.
  2. Re-issued on elpee, cassette and compact disc in the US (A&M, SP/CS/CD-3720) with picture innersleeve.
  3. Re-issued on compact disc in September 1986 in the UK (A&M).
  4. Re-released on remastered compact disc in 1995 in the US (A&M, 3720-2).
  5. Re-issued on remastered compact disc on November 22, 2006 in Japan (A&M, UICY-6577).
  6. Re-released on super-high material compact disc on November 9, 2011 in Japan (A&M, UICY-25087).
  7. Re-released on ultimate high quality compact disc on August 25, 2021 in Japan (A&M, UICY-40349).

1 thought on “[Review] The Police: Zenyatta Mondatta (1980)

  1. The Police were touring for this album in late 1980. They did a concert in Florida on December 8, 1980 (can’t remember the exact location offhand). Stewart Copeland had a fever and spent the afternoon in bed. By coincidence, he was reading the December 6, 1980 issue of Playboy which featured the mammoth interview with John Lennon. Just as the band was exiting the venue, their road manager told them he heard rumors that John Lennon was assassinated. When the group members returned to their hotel rooms, it was indeed confirmed on the radio… Not sure if it was because of the news, but the group took a few days off from touring. On December 14, 1980, though, Sting re-recorded “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” in Japanese and Spanish at Criteria Studios in Miami. Imagine that: an English singer singer in Japanese in an American studio! I think he sang those songs in the morning, and then later that day, he and the rest of The Police went to Argentina. Busy boys they were.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *