White boy reggae never sounded as good as it did with the Police’s barrage of stellar singles throughout the early 80s. Every Breath You Take: The Classics lives up to that subtitle even if the track listing is missing a few gems (“So Lonely,” “Synchronicity II,” “The Bed’s Too Big Without You,” just to name a few) that could have easily taken the place of the two remixes at the end. Still, the twelve songs chosen here really are the best of the best from Sting and the boys.
We begin with the impassioned pleas of “Roxanne,” and we only get better from there. The Police were one of the best bands of their generation, let alone to come out of the New Wave scene, and one of their first great pop songs was a love poem to a prostitute that Sting delivers with a mixture of jealousy and heartache. Even better is the follow-up, “Can’t Stand Losing You,” which shimmies and grooves with its ska-adjacent beat.
Nothing beats “Message in a Bottle” for its scope, feeling, and spongy reggae swagger. The Police really hit their stride when it comes to massively catchy and enduring singles with their second album, Regatta de Blanc, and just kept the hits coming in successive years. The line-up of essential material makes enough of an argument for itself: “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” “Every Breath You Take,” “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da.”
Every Breath You Take: The Classics really launches itself towards “must buy” territory through one simple fact: it’s the best single-disc assortment of the Police’s career on the market. The two-disc The Police is an all-around better collection, but it’s so massive and sprawling that many a casual fan may balk at the sheer scope. And Message in a Box: The Complete Recordings is out-of-print and a gargantuan retrospective including every single album and B-side in one place. Greatest Hits is a UK import, but its sixteen tracks does tip the scales in its favor. Good luck finding it in the states.
If all you want is the purest distillation of the Police, then you’ll find it here. Or, if you’re not sure where to start with their career, here is a damn fine primer for the rest of their albums. The inner band friction made their music great, and for all of the limelight that Sting’s sensational voice and bass playing got, it’s impossible to imagine the band sounding quite the same without Andy Summers’ guitar and Stewart Copeland’s drums.
You need a reminder of what a great band the Police were? Here’s twelve reminders.
DOWNLOAD: “Message in a Bottle”