All rise for the second coming of Sumner...
September 05, 2007 

"Get up, stand up," sings Bob Marley as the house lights fall. The grey-haired people around me do more than that; they clamber over the seats to get to the front. I originally interpret this wrongly: I assume they're driven by lust for their balding idol, but there are no screams when he appears, so my second guess is that their eyesight just isn't too great these days.

Not that The Police are much to look at any more. First, it's Stewart "Why the Long Face?" Copeland, in a sci-fi drum riser equipped with a gong and a glockenspiel. Next, with a red Fender around his neck, it's the guitarist Andy Summers, and lastly, in a moth-eaten white vest, it's Sting, unbeaten champion of the Biggest Git in Rock contest for more than two decades.

Only Bono can rival Sting's messianic, massive ego, and Sting didn't even have the saving grace of a self-aware Zoo TV period. I once sat in open-mouthed disbelief at a Mojo awards ceremony as Sting claimed responsibility for a temporary rapprochement between Israel and Palestine. And just look at his post-Police career: dressing up as an Amazonian native, advocating tantric sex, recording an album of Elizabethan lute music... Even tonight, he can't resist tootling on Peruvian pan pipes, and once again I'm agape.

The Police were never cool. Which is no crime, unless you're trying to be. Along with Deacon Blue, they represent the forlorn subgenre of Schoolteacher Rock. Mr Sumner, acknowledging his former profession, instructs this 15,000-strong class that "Don't Stand So Close to Me" was not autobiographical, but fails to apologise for that infamously clunky lyric "Just like the/Old man in/That book by Nabokov". Even more than The Stranglers, they were shameless jumpers on the punk bandwagon. Sting's vocal style was an even greater crime: the most insulting travesty of a Jamaican accent this side of Sebastian, the singing lobster from Disney's The Little Mermaid.

The suicidal tension of "Can't Stand Losing You", a fine song, is ruined with call-and-response yodelling, and 'Roxanne', Sting's Pretty Woman prozzie-rescue fantasy, is similarly stretched out with grotesque bass soloing and a cameo from local hero Ranking Roger of The Beat, a far superior rock-reggae hybrid. They encore with the one about Sue Lawley, and the inevitable 'Every Breath You Take'. Yes, I know it has a sinister stalker vibe, but it's also directly responsible for Puff Daddy's success and is therefore condemned to pop hell, case closed.

'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' may summon gruesome memories of the video with all that "ah, you guys!" joshing on the ski slope, but for all the mutually appreciative jazz faces they make at each other, there's precious little onstage chemistry, and there have already been tales of backstage acrimony from Copeland's own equine mouth.

In summary, irritating git who's written a handful of decent songs gets back together with muso sidekicks for money-spinning arena tour. You have the right to remain silent.

© The Independent on Sunday by Simon Price

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