1980-1981: Years of Growth and Ferment Three: the Police release New Wave's "Hard Day's Night".
In the autumn of 1980 came the album only hinted at by its two predecessors. Zenyatta breathed technicolor into the previously sleek chrome-and-jet-black Police as reflected by the creamsicle-tequila sunrise motif of the sleeve. In Europe when I was a kid this was the most anticipated record since The Beatles: records were broken for advance orders in England and on The Continent.
Rushed into a sleek Dutch facility at Hilversum between dashes around the globe, the band was finally heard in glorious, miles-deep hifi. Engineer/producer Nigel Grey had performed a miracle of space and emptiness at the egg-crate-on-the-wall Surrey Sound studio where The Police recorded their first two shoestring budget albums, but what awaited us on this disc was a whole new step towards the Ethos of Emptiness.
The Police were a heavily marketed, extremely glossy commodity by now, authors of three hit singles (Roxanne, Message In a Bottle, Walking On The Moon) and at the hands of manager Miles Copeland III becoming moreso daily. By today's standards, though, these guys were like god damned Fugazi.
Zenyatta was cut in an environment of Beatlemania-like intensity and stress and is often considered The Police's most undercooked effort. This is certainly the opinion of the band, but one must be reminded of the essential formula of The Police: 1/3 bad, 2/3 transcendent. This held true for their every recorded effort, and if you approach the band that way it makes perfect sense. On Zenyatta we are treated to soundscapes of Zen-like repetition and sparseness, syncopated, meta-African rhythms and songs that often don't evolve past the chanting stage. It's wonderful and very tribal, elemental and modern at the same time.
I am often struck by the similarities between this record and Magical Mystery Tour. Like The Beatles in 1967, The Police are in thrall to an esthetic so distinctive and unique that the songwriting takes an almost appropriate backseat to a sonic ideal. Also common to both efforts is the 1/3- 2/3 formula, where Zenyatta's "Behind My Camel" and "Another Way Of Stopping" neatly echo the throwaways "Flying" and "Blue Jay Way" from Tour.
I think it's great when a band does this, as long as it doesn't become par. I love Mystery Tour, an album that is often written off amongst the greats of the Beatles canon. The Police eased away from the dense, chewy licorice of the first two records and, with Zenyatta Mondatta constructed a big, airy marshmallow of an album that scratched an undefinable itch in the fall of 1980. "Driven To Tears", "Don't Stand So Close To Me", "De doo doo doo" and "When The World Is Running Down (You Make The Best Of What's Still Around)" owned the European airwaves and then the American ones well into the winter, and The Police went from British sensation to international superstars with the carefully executed, beautifully spare thrust of Zenyatta Mondatta.