The Police may well have been the biggest band in the world by the time they recorded their fifth and final album together, releasing Synchronicity in 1983 before splitting up. Following its release they embarked on a huge tour in support of the album, before wandering off to do their own things for several years before finally reuniting in 2007 to embark on another massive tour. It's fitting, then, that their last LP is absolutely superb, leaving much of their reggae roots behind in favour of a larger, stadium-filling produced sound. Speakers pound with synthesisers and guitars on some tracks, before dropping away for quieter more reflective pieces later; and, of course, this album contains that perennial misunderstood song, Every Breath You Take.
The band were beginning to fracture long before this album, and the cracks do show. Only two tracks on the entire album were written by Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland, the rest totally dominated by Sting. Their two tracks are generally considered concessions - by this point Sting was embarking on a solo career, had branched out into acting, and was seen as the controlling force within the band. However, the band hide their difficulties well: the musicianship is tight and excellently-performed, the band at their peak as performers. If the band were planning to continue recording afterwards, Synchronicity shows where they might have evolved and changed; as a swan song it's not a bad way to go out at all.
The album was commercially and critically successful after its June 1, 1983 release, hitting number 1 in both US and UK charts and spawning four singles which all charted highly on both sides of the Atlantic. The cover artwork features a red, blue and yellow stripe across a white background, each filled with pictures of the band members; there are many different variations of the sleeve, featuring the pictures and stripes in different orders. The three stripes motif would be continued on the sleeve artwork of several of the album's singles.
- Synchronicity I - A bouncy, catching synthesiser opens the album, soon joined by the other instruments whilst continuing to carry the first song. Sting's lyrics build around a loose description of Carl Jung's theory of 'synchronicity', after which the album and song are based. His vocals fade over each other creating a cascading series of phrases during the chorus, becoming ever-more urgency as it nears its climax. When performed live, the song was nothing short of electric, backed with additional vocalists to help with the overlapping vocals. Not released as a single. "With one breath / With one flow / You will know / Synchronicity"
- Walking In Your Footsteps - Hand-beaten drums introduce the second track, mostly empty of the usual Police instrumentation and instead letting the vocals sit upon this percussion. The lyrics compare the dinosaurs to modern-day man, asking them how they felt to be the kings of their own world and how they'd managed to fall - and whether we could learn from their example. Quite a nice little song, a welcome break after the intensity of the opener. Not released as a single. "Hey mighty brontosaurus don't you have a lesson for us / You thought your rule would always last / There were no lessons in your past"
- O My God - A jazz-influenced song, reintroducing the saxophone to the Police canon here. This song is actually a reworking of an earlier, live-only track, "Three O'Clock Shot". The bass nicely works alongside the drums, with guitars creeping in around them to add to the atmosphere, as Sting laments life's situation, protesting to God for leaving him this way and begging for the 'space between us' to be filled. Not released as a single. "O my God you take the biscuit / Treating me this way"
- Mother - Ugh! Not a particularly listenable song. Written by Andy Summers, it features discordant saxophone whines and an incessant melody behind whining vocals pleading with the protagonist's Mother to leave him alone. Pretty difficult to recommend listening to more than once; I'd really recommend skipping straight over it. Not released as a single. "Well, I hear mother calling / But I don't need her as a friend"
- Miss Gradenko -Considerably better than the song coming before it, this number by Stewart Copeland is quite a pleasant, easy-to-listen-to song about a Soviet women trapped within bureaucracy, Sting asking them if they're safe within the Communist machine as she sends messages to the outside world. This song tends to get criticism from fans, but I find it a nice break before the ferociousness of the next track - and so much better than Mother. Not released as a single. "You've been letting your feelings show / Are you safe Miss Gradenko?"
- Synchronicity II - Rounding out the first side of the LP is possibly the hardest, loudest Police song, beginning with a burst of feedback and continuing the story begun with the first track. Musically the song's brilliant, loud and powerful, while the lyrics speak of one man's struggle through the various problems of the day, contrasted with mysterious machinations deep within a 'dark Scottish lake'. Put it on, raise the volume, and enjoy. Released as the third single from the album. "Many miles away / There's a shadow on the door / Of a cottage on the shore / Of a dark Scottish lake"
- Every Breath You Take - The quintessential Police song, one well-known to many and so popular Sting still draws a substantial royalty from it. Beginning with a distinctive guitar riff recorded in a single take, the song tells the story of a scorned lover now obsessively watching their former partner; however, the song is frequently mistaken to be a love song, thus adding to its rather disturbing charm. It's a fine track, and a fantastic way to open the second half of the record; when released as a single, it promptly found its way to the top of the charts in both the US and the UK. "O can't you see / You belong to me / How my poor heart aches / With every step you take"
- King of Pain - A difficult song to analyse, featuring a great deal of situations all referring back to the singers declaration that he's the titular 'King of pain'. Quite why this should be is unknown, save for a single line towards the end of the track mentioning "I always thought you could end this reign"; perhaps the song refers to simply the pain of being alone. Musically the song features quite diverse instruments, opening with a piano before being joined by several others. Released as the album's second single. "There's a red fox torn by a huntsman's pack / There's a black winged gull with a broken back"
- Wrapped Around Your Finger - Another haunting song drawing on many literary references, from the story of Merlin to names casually dropped into conversation such as Mephistopheles. A 'student' approaches a 'master' seeking to learn from them, soon falling into their sway, before (to the master's horror) overcoming them and enslaving them instead. This song sees the return of synthesisers in large doses, adding to the haunting aura surrounding this track, the album's fourth single. "You consider me the young apprentice / Caught between the Scylla and Charibdes'"
- Tea In The Sahara - A beautiful, gentle, sombre way to finish an album. The last track of the LP release ends it perfectly with the tale of three women stranded in the Saharan desert and left to die, taken from a passage in the book The Sheltering Sky. Bass-heavy and featuring some guitars that seem to drift in and out of consciousness, Sting's voice is on perfect form, encouraging you to lean closer to hear every word of this cautionary tale. For the CD and cassette releases, this really should have been the last track. Not released as a single. "As their eyes searched the land / With their cups still full of sand / Tea in the Sahara with you..."
- Murder by Numbers (CD and Cassette only) - The bonus track for the non-vinyl releases of the album rather spoils the mood, the previous song being the perfect closer. Still, this is a passable song, originally a B-side to Every Breath You Take, an upbeat song exploring the creation of a serial killer. "It's murder by numbers / One, two, three / It's as easy to learn as your A B C"
Despite being slightly spoiled by the bonus track, all versions of this album make for superb listening. From the heavy rock of Synchronicity II to the classic ballad Every Breath You Take, the album showcases a band at their absolute peak. It's a good purchase if you want to first get to know the band, although only a couple of the 'hits' are featured here. It stands as a fine conclusion to the band's studio work, and as an excellent LP in its own right.