Ghost In The Machine
A & M Records, 1981
REVIEW BY: George Agnos
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/12/1998
By the time they released their fourth album, Ghost In The Machine, in 1981, The Police were already a well-established act. What I think they were attempting with this album was to keep their patented ska-rock sound intact, while going for a more serious approach with the songs. What they ended up doing with this album was to keep their patented ska-rock sound intact.
The Police do believe in truth in advertising because Ghost In The Machine perfectly describes what this album sounds like with its murky, blurry production values. But instead of being haunting, many of the songs end up sounding...well, murky and blurry. This type of production affects the two singles off this album. "Spirits In The Material World" does sound ghostly, except these ghosts do nothing but preach. I always thought this was an odd choice for a single and only qualifies because they tack on a chorus where they repeat the title several hundred times. I do like Andy Summers's guitar work on the bridge, though.
The other single off the album is "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic." This song is catchy enough, with solid hooks in the chorus. However the production really does not bring out the best in this song. Besides, if they are going for that spooky Pink Floyd type of sound, they shouldn't really have catchy little ditties like this in the first place.
Much of the rest album relies on the Police's patented ska sound, but by this point, their sound has become tired. They seem to be going through the motions on songs like "Too Much Information", "Demolition Man", and "One World (Not Three)." You've heard it all done before on their previous albums but with much more heart. Again, the production values do not help, but I cannot put all the blame there because there just does not seem to be much inspiration in the band's performances.
Even Summers, whose provocative songs on other albums usually upset Sting's applecart, sounds pretty low-key on his one song "Omegaman." It is not a bad song, but if ever he needed to wake up the listener with his weirdness, this would have been the album to do it. And then there's the band's failed attempt to sound global on "Hungry For You." The song is partly sung in French and just comes off as ridiculous.
But there are some pluses on this album. There is one good uptempo number co-written by Sting and drummer Stewart Copeland called "Rehumanize Yourself." This song is brings back the intensity of their first album, Outlandos D'Amour. It is a bubbly song that is nicely counterpointed by some strange Summers guitar licks. As far as the lyrics go, I wish the band had taken their own advice.
Also, the production values that I have been knocking, do work to good effect on some of the slower songs like Sting's "Invisible Sun" and "Secret Journey" and Copeland's "Darkness." They are the type of moody pieces that fit what I think the Police were going for here. However it does not help that that the latter two songs happen to be the last two songs on the album. Perhaps they should have abandoned ska altogether for this approach, but I guess they were not confident enough of their success to make that radical of a switch yet.
As if sensing their own lack of inspiration, The Police did regroup and redo their sound for their next album, Synchronicity. On that album, they accomplished what they were trying here with more success. Therefore, I consider Ghost In The Machine to be merely a false start. The Police have many good albums under their belt, but this transitional album lacks any spark and is the least essential one in their catalog.