Try and make a list of bands whose best album was their final album. Chances are you thought about The Police, who went out went the stunning success of 1983’s Synchronicity. The band’s interpersonal relationships had deteriorated to the point where another album just wasn’t going to happen. What many people might not realize is how close the band came to dissolving even before they released their masterpiece.
In an interview with me for my book Playing Back The 80s: A Decade Of Unstoppable Hits, Hugh Padgham, who produced the album along with the band members (Sting, Andy Summers, Stewart Copeland), explained how the band struggled to come together. “When we went out to Montserrat to record this album, we were there for two weeks before we had anything on the tape that we could call a song,” Padgham remembered. “It was that bad.”
“And Miles Copeland (the band’s manager) flew over, even though he hated coming to Montserrat because it was in the middle of nowhere. He came over and I distinctly remember the band and him, while I was privy but on the periphery, having a meeting about whether we were going to carry on recording this album or give it up there and then. The consensus was that we would carry on.”
Carry on they did, but the toxic atmosphere within the band may have been why the hit songs that emerged, such as “Every Breath You Take,” “King Of Pain,” and “Wrapped Around Your Finger,” were suffused with such darkness. That mood carries over to the Side One closer and quasi-title track, “Synchronicity II,” written by Sting. A driving rocker with horror movie sound effects, the song slyly connects the angst-ridden life of a family man to a sea monster rising from the depths.
The latter shows up in the refrain sections (“Many miles away…), emanating from a “dark Scottish loch.” But Sting is far more interested in the mundane and soul-crushing details of his anti-hero, the head of a family crushed by the life that he’s built. The song is originally told from the perspective of the children, watching “Grandmother screaming at the wall,” Mother chanting “her litany of boredom and frustration” and Daddy, who “only stares into the distance.”
But we then follow the father to work, where he endures pollution (“the factory belches filth into the sky”), labor unrest (“He walks unhindered through the picket lines today”) and temptation (secretaries who resemble “cheap tarts in a red-light street.”) Worst of all: “And every single meeting with his so-called superior/ Is a humiliating kick in the crotch.”
In the final verse, the workday is over, “only the rush-hour hell to face.” Sting’s view of those caught in gridlock: “Packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes/ Contestants in a suicidal race.” You can practically feel this character’s blood pressure rising as he imagines another terrible night at home: “He knows that something somewhere has to break.” Whether it’s coincidence or synchronicity indeed, the monster prepares to tear apart an innocent family at the same time that the father returns.
Whatever squabbles were going on in the studio at the time, they seem to feed into the band’s performance, as forceful and gritty as anything that The Police ever put on record. You also have to give credit to Sting’s writing on “Synchronicity II.” He somehow found a way to make getting swallowed whole by the Loch Ness Monster seem preferable to a night with the family.