"Okay," you're thinking, "sure Sting sucks now, with his horrific soundtrack from Leaving Las Vegas that screwed up the whole movie, and those awful Puff Daddy remixes, and his sanctimonious moral posturing that does nothing but make ridiculous Bono appear authentically concerned and charitable by comparison--but the Police, in their day, were a great band!" No! They were not. Again: No! Great? No! In fact, to think they were good at all is a big mistake.

Most people who commit this error do so out of plain ignorance. For example, just the other day, on an oldies radio station, I heard a DJ introduce "Walking On the Moon" by saying that the Police were the first band to blend punk and reggae. "Egad!" the right-thinking among you must be saying as you read this, "if a professional could be so ignorant as to what the Police were really all about, no wonder the general listening public doesn't get it!"

So, quick history lesson: the Police came after the Specials and the Clash. Those two bands were very popular but didn't bring to their labels nearly as much profit as the punk fashion craze seemed to be generating. It turned out that late-'70s music fans--and certainly radio programmers--liked the idea of punk rock far better than the actual music. The Police offered a solution to this problem by looking sort of punk and being from the same place as punk, yet playing a sort of vaguely arty bubblegum that merely suggested some measure of abandon, or, by virtue of its bludgeoning repetitiveness, hostility to musical tradition. In short, Sting and Co. presented a package that could easily be mistaken for punk rock, especially by people who hadn't seen the Clash.

But they were a pop act from the very start, and a pretentious jazz-faking, suck-cheeked, camera-mugging one at that. No one in Seattle should have a hard time comprehending the kind of coat-tail slingshot ride to the top the Police enjoyed. If you're new in town, be sure to ask a local about a time early in this decade, when a phony grunge band and their "disaffected" stance eclipsed the real Northwest rock sound and culture. (Those guys' publicist even fooled Time magazine!)

Now, before we go on, do you agree that the Police were a very commercial pop band, always aiming for radio singles, never rebellious or innovative? Because the historical record is very clear--you could go look this shit up.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with being a commercial pop band--especially a cross-cultural one, even if the boundary transgression is nominal. Almost everybody likes it when disparate populations are brought together by the love of some catchy tune. Parisians into rap are kinda cool. Londoners into reggae have made some great music. Motown, the greatest cross-cultural commercial pop enterprise of all time, helped expand an entire nation's horizons.

The Police definitely had the success component of a Motown act--from "Roxanne" to "Every Breath You Take" they were fucking ubiquitous on the dial. But what was shared? Did the Police convey any hint of the meanings of their pseudo-punk, their reggae, or even their Brit-boy reggae fandom? Was Sting's lovelorn yelp at all illustrative of his era or culture (as any "great band in its time" would have to be), or was he just another mediocre hit-single singer in the Tin Pan Alley tradition?

Not that there's anything wrong with that, either! But such music should attract little more than scholarly attention, because it's essentially empty. Even in this bland, formulaic arena, the Police were utter failures, because they always (always!) overplayed their hook. Maybe this is what got them accepted as punks, saying "ooh-ah spirits in the material world" five times in a row, 10 times in the song, but, knowing what we know now, can't we agree that it's just grating?!

For chrissakes, Police fans, sit still and listen to "Message in a Bottle" sometime! Every line in that trite little chorus is repeated three times, like a commercial jingle. "Don't Stand So Close to Me" hammers the exact same melodic line throughout the entire song, and it's an extremely cloying, invasive line. Sing it scat--it sounds like a taunt. Or better yet, like an English police siren: "Stand aside, people with ears--I've got records to sell!"