Saturday, 4 April 2009

1983 The Police: Every Breath You Take

As far as The Police are concerned, 'Every Breath You Take' is best described by a series of 'gones'. Gone are the reggae styling and choppy guitar runs to be replaced by a deliberate, descending guitar and bass lines held in place by Copeland's simple drum beat. Gone is the feel-good humour and coughing teachers of previous singles to be replaced by a noir-ish theme of obsession and stalking from the point of view of someone who won't accept a relationship is over.

Gone too is the throwaway 'Three Stooges' style video of the band larking about in foreign places. Instead, Godley and Creme were drafted in to direct and arty black and white footage that had Sting playing upright bass jazz style and a backing of an intense looking violin quartet. The effect of it all smacks of 'we're being serious now and not mucking about in the snow and the sun,' but in truth the song doesn't need such a po-faced and austere setting as it's capable enough to stand up by itself.

Written during the break up of his marriage to actress Frances Tomelty, 'Every Breath You Take' plays for the most part like a mantra of obsession. It's minor key and understated guitar lines see Andy Summers' usual chords of sunburst jangle replaced with a spare and empty delivery where every note is methodically plucked and dampened, while Sting's lyric brooding lyric obsessively counts the ways he still loves his missing lover:"Every breath you take, every move you make. Every bond you break, every step you take, I'll be watching you" - over and over it goes in a repetitive litany of madness that reminds of Jack Nicholson endlessly typing 'All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy' in The Shining. You can well imagine the lines being mumbled by a strait-jacketed inmate in a padded cell as he writes them on the wall in crayon.

When the tune does shift key, it's not to let in the light:"Oh can't you see, you belong to me. How my poor heart aches, with every step you take": the impact is chilling in its possesiveness and the implication that the only way to stop the self pity in heartache is to stop his ex taking any more steps. It's the weak man's 'if I can't have you then no one will' argument writ large. And the fact that the song ends with a repeated 'I'll be watching you' gives no respite, making what's not said all the more disturbing.

In light of the songs around it in the charts at the time, 'Every Breath You Take' feels like a passing car has slowed down to throw out a mangled corpse with a rictus grin into the midst of a beach party. Unnerving and unsettling, it's an unlikely number one as they come, but yet it's the sound of the band as a whole maturing, hitting their stride and growing up in public. 'Every Breath You Take' is the sound of a rug being pulled from under expectations. Unrecognisable from anything they did previous, it marks a break from the past and a pointer to the future in the way that, for example, 'Tomorrow Never Knows' did for The Beatles. But of course, the shame is that the biggest 'gone' of all would soon be The Police themselves, leaving 'Every Breath You Take' behind as a tantalising glimpse of what might have been.

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