Stewart Copeland, ‘Police Deranged for Orchestra': Album Review
There was always something a little deranged about the Police. We probably didn't need drummer Stewart Copeland to tell us that. A product of the punk rock era but willing to demonstrate a broader and more accomplished musical acuity than that, a peroxide-blonde trio turning reggae-based tunes into pop hits back in 1978 seemed as unlikely as it was exceptional. There was a blend of playfulness and serious muso ambition that didn't quite track either. It was hard to get a bead on the band, in other words, and that was part of what made it a multiplatinum concern during their short, seven-year run, not counting a brief reunion during the late '00s.
What the Police did most of all was create a body of work that was engrossing but not necessarily definitive. From "Next to You" to "Tea in the Sahara," the songs stand up to interpretation, which all the band members have done both individually and collectively. Copeland's Police Deranged for Orchestra is among the more daring and exciting twists on the band's repertoire, even more than Sting's Symphonicities in 2010.
The 11-track set comes from an orchestral presentation Copeland created for orchestras and premiered in August 2021 in San Diego, bringing an inventive compositional approach to the canon that seamlessly fuses rock band aesthetic - with guitarist Rusty Anderson of Paul McCartney's band and bass from Paul Simon veteran Armand Sabal-Lecco - and symphonic grandeur but without sounding overdone or gratuitous. It's an arresting take on some very familiar tunes that genuinely hold up well alongside their predecessors.
The most Deranged moments happen during the album's latter half. "Roxanne" is treated to a high-octane, brassy opening and a group vocal treatment (by Amy Keys, Carmel Helene and Ashley Tamar) that hews from the concert arrangements employed by the Police and Sting solo. With its ascending orchestral patterns, it has a free-form quality entirely different from the tightly executed take we first heard more than four decades ago. Then there's Copeland's mash-up of "Can't Stand Losing You" and the instrumental "Reggatta de Blanc," a cascading couplet fueled by plenty of brass and muscular ensemble propulsion, evolving into a soul rave-up before it ends.
Everything else on Police Deranged for Orchestra stays melodically true to the original songs but reinvents their impact with an array of textures and touches. "Don't Stand So Close to Me," "Murder by Numbers" and "Tea in the Sahara" boast urbane, saxophone-fueled jazz flavors, while other woodwinds get "Message in a Bottle" off to a light start that builds into rocking urgency and some screaming guitar licks by Anderson. A funky, nearly six-minute interpolation of "Demolition Man" has real hips amid the string swells that slide through it, and Copeland uses the orchestra to add richness to "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic," "King of Pain" and "Every Breath You Take," the latter preceded by a specially composed new introduction. As with any project of this sort, the Deranged material is unlikely to displace the original versions on anybody's playlists. But they're exciting alternatives that, if given more than a cursory listen, add depth to the Police's formidable legacy.