Ghost In The Machine

Chicago, IL, US
Rosemont Horizon
Police keep recycling their sound...

In the three years or so since the Police turned up on the Top 40 with 'Roxanne', the British trio has been described as everything from punk to pop.

Singer-songwriter Randy Newman, however, came closest to the heart of the matter a while back, during a conversation that started on the subject of his score for 'Ragtime' but soon segued on to more contemporary sounds. ''A lot of people keep telling me how good the Police are,'' Newman mused, ''but to me, they still sound like something you'd hear at Club Med.''

They do, indeed. So much so, in fact, that one almost expects the trio to turn up wearing those plastic pop-it bead necklaces that serve as legal tender on club turf. The Police's forte is slick, calypso-flavoured pop - finely crafted, amiably catchy and more than a little akin to Muzak in impact.

The band, which returned to the Rosemont Horizon on Sunday night for its second show there in two months, is a likeable outfit onstage. But it soon becomes evident that the group has only one sound to offer. Though undeniably masters at it, the musicians basically offer a one-note performance that in large doses tends toward the soporific.

The most curious thing about the band, as far as I'm concerned, is how the Police have managed to cultivate and retain their vaguely new-wave image (even a vaguely punk image, which obviously is absurd) in the face of the fact that they are as commercial as they come. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but as a rule it's the least adventurous. most formulaic music that tends to be the most commercially appealing. That may explain why the band has garnered more mass success than almost any other group to emerge under the new wave banner in the past few years.

Initially the group's marriage of pop and island rhythms was mildly intriguing. Since then, however, the Police have been content to recycle the formula until it ceases to become entertaining and simply is redundant. In concert, the sameness of the songs, from 'Message in a Bottle' through 'Spirits in the Material World', becomes especially apparent.

The addition of a three-man horn section, occasional special lighting effects and lead singer and guitarist Sting's fancy footwork help some, but not enough to make the Police really arresting over the long haul.

Opening the show was Joan Jett, a onetime member of the Runaways and now fronting her own hard-rock band, the Blackhearts. Jett's got all the right moves; she's a convincingly tough and trampy rocker with a repertoire that draws from the past ('Wooly Bully', 'Crimson and Clover') as well as the present ('I Love Rock and Roll'). But why does she feel that she has to bully the crowd into singing along?

(c) The Chicago Tribune by Lynn Van Matre