No, this collection of Police covers does not contain “Roxanne” or “Every Breath You Take”. Nor does Many Miles Away boast any big name acts, but rather independent bands culled from all over the United States, including Blinder, Jack Neat, PopCannon, and lesliwood. As much as Solarmanite Records does not want to market this delightful collection as a “tribute” album, it’s unavoidable. In bringing together a rich, diverse array of Police songs, both well known and rather obscure, performed in a dizzying range of styles and moods, they have achieved that which they set out not to: that is, they have paid tribute to Sting and the Police.
Which is not to say, by any means, that Sting has been left out in the cold, lonely streets these days. From Puffy’s reworking of “Every Breath You Take” in a (there’s that word again) tribute to Notorious B.I.G., to the wild success of Sting’s latest record, the mellow and mature Brand New Day, to the fact that it has somehow become fairly common knowledge that Sting is some sort of tantric sex guru, Sting has certainly gotten his fair share of publicity. But to how many people is he just that weird sex-guy who has a kind of funny and annoying voice? Didn’t he sing that “Roxanne” song? Hey, didn’t he write that song “Every Breath You Take” about the psychotic stalker—my wife and I got married to that song! (It was a toss-up between that and “The One I Love”.)
Despite Sting’s ubiquitous pop culture capital, the work he did in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s with the Police was nonetheless stunning. Not only was the band’s sound a dynamic fusion of pop, punk, and reggae, but the Police were also formidable and clever songwriters. From the angry critical cultural manifestos like “Invisible Sun”, “Spirits in the Material World”, and “Synchronicity”, to the twisted tales of emotional anguish and desperation like “Every Breath You Take”, “Wrapped Around Your Finger”, and “King of Pain”, to the sweet, honest, sincere devotion of love ditties like “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” and “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da”, the Police’s body of work is varied and rich, complex and textured. Hence, a collection like Many Miles Away works so well.
All the artists on this record abandon the Police’s snappy, reggae-pop sound and run far and wide with the songs as they see fit. The most radical reinterpretation is the Paper Chase’s utter decimation of the moody, subtly anguished revenge song “Wrapped Around Your Finger”. Whereas Sting’s rebellion was cool and sexy, the Paper Chase explode the song in a Nine Inch Nails fury—an industrial rhythm track buzzes and cranks as the singer sounds as if he is being eaten from the inside out by ravenous maggots as he sings the song’s tortuous chorus.
The very next track, however, finds the band Jack Neat transforming the sarcastic sociopolitical diatribe “Murder by Numbers” into a slinky cocktail jazz standard. Many Miles Away is jarring and affecting in its abrupt shifts in style in tone. Bands like Decembers January on “Message in a Bottle” and Sound of Reverse on “Omegaman” tear up the Police with jumpy punk-pop, while an artist like Andrew Wagner offers a simple and understated solo acoustic performance of “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic”. The logic is bizarre in that there is none. The result, though, is captivating, constantly reinterpreting the Police through ever-changing filters—somehow, despite this record’s wandering through punk, pop, jazz, and metal, all of these songs were written by the Police. Bizarre indeed.
The real masterpieces of this record come at its quieter, more subdued moments. Blinder offer a gorgeous, touchingly sweet rendition of Stewart Copeland’s heartfelt tale of romantic hesitation and insecurity, “Does Everyone Stare”. A mild, moody electronic track recalling both the Sneaker Pimps and Bjork, Blinder’s “Does Everyone Stare” escalates from ominous, trippy beats to a full-fledged vocal epiphany of exploding harmonies. Similarly, In Between Blue recasts “Invisible Sun” as a quietly pulsating Radiohead-esque electronic track. The cool keyboards and low, rich, monotone vocals play beautifully off the song’s dire, insistent anti-authoritarian message.
The closer, “King of Pain” as performed by lesliwood, however, easily steals the show. A female vocalist, strong and sexy in the vein of PJ Harvey, leads a masterful reinterpretation of the Police’s classic ode to dejection and depression. A fairly straight, piano-based imitation of the original slowly morphs into a driving, chaotic swirl, powered by positively scorching guitars a la My Bloody Valentine. The track swirls and meanders in an incessant Velvet Underground-like mantra of pounding drums and feedback, giving way to tortured, melancholy pianos rising out of the guitar apocalypse.
More than any other track on Many Miles Away, this song shows just how fertile and productive reinterpretation can be. lesliwood’s version of “King of Pain” both extends the original to its logical, melancholy conclusion while also taking it in directions conceivably never dreamed of by the Police. The peculiar pleasure of the idiosyncratic covers on this record is hearing the Police’s songs pushed in all sorts of directions that they were seemingly not built for. Yet it all works—which, my apologies to Solarmanite Records, is the greatest tribute to the Police imaginable.