Monday, 19 January 2009

1980 The Police: Don't Stand So Close To Me

Well first things first - I think the 'problem' with any discussion of 'Don't Stand' is that there's an elephant in the room. You know what I mean, what lazy journalists refer to as that lyric. So let's get it out of the way: "Its no use, he sees her, he starts to shake and cough, just like the old man in that book by Nabakov" - a clumsy rhyme for sure, but in the context of the song's subject matter (teacher having indecent thoughts about a jailbait pupil with a crush on him) it works well enough; I can just imagine a member of academia trying to find justification for his longings in literature where none exists in morality (the book is 'Lolita' in case anyone didn't know). It's certainly not the biggest stick with which this song can be beaten. 

By 1980, The Police had achieved an extraordinary run of success and were on a roll, but the toll of releasing two albums in the previous twelve months was biting and 'Don't Stand So Close To Me' is the sound of a formula being stretched transparent. Structurally, 'Don't Stand' is basically a slowed down and spaced out re-run of their earlier 'Can't Stand Losing You' that swaps Andy Summer's choppy guitar skank for a more straightforward delivery, rather like a once sharp knife with the edge dulled. To compound this, Sting delivers the verses with an attitude of detached, almost embarrassed disinterest, as if he realises he's on dodgy ground with his tale of schoolgirl jailbait and can't wait to rush past it and on to the chorus (introduced by Copeland's kick drum that acts as a full stop to all the nonsense that has gone before) which he knows will sell the song to anybody with a ear for a catchy tune.

In the end,
'Don't Stand' is a classic 'eighties' song - it may lack all the bombast of the later bands and songs of the decade, but it's still basic pop dressed in a grown up's clothes to create an air of gravitas and importance that is never fulfilled. We never know the outcome of the scenario that unfolds and what the teacher does when he stops coughing and shaking. Maybe Sting knows but thought it was a step too far to describe. And maybe the imagined is worse than the knowing. But nevermind; the chorus soon kicks in to fade so nobody worries about it too much and everybody's happy.

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