Friday, March 21, 2008

"Walking On the Moon" / The Police
"Walkin' On the Sun" / Smash Mouth

A two-for-one for you today, because I feel so guilty that I've gone AWOL this week (big book deadline hanging over my head...)

Now, I don't have anything against the Police. I used to love them, in fact, in the olden days, though I couldn't follow Sting down the many avenues of egotism and pomposity he's trod since then. The idea that Elvis Costello should be their opening act this summer, however (all right, he's not the opening act, he's the "featured guest artist"), bothers me. Much as I love Elvis, I don't think I want to spring big bucks to see him in an arena setting just because the Police are coming on afterward.

But all that is neither here nor there. "Walking On the Moon" is from the vintage Police era (1979, Regatta de Blanc), so it's still on my playlist. Great reggae beat, nice spangly space-agey guitars, and those high, strangulated, dislocated Sting vocals--it's going all Arthur C. Clarke-y on us. It's unusually surreal for the Police -- "Giant steps are what you take / Walking on the moon / I hope my legs don't break / Walking on the moon," even though it's not really about space travel at all but about the euphoria of being with his girlfriend. I've always imagined this as being sung by a guy who's just lost his virginity, and how strange the world seems all of a sudden--that hypnotic sense of wonderment is pretty durn effective.

Still, given a choice, I'd prefer this Smash Mouth track. Were they thinking of the Police song when they did this? I wouldn't be surprised. Maybe that explains the delicious funkiness (a lot more so than most of the Smash Mouth songs I've heard), along with a samba-like syncopation and some boppy organ riffs that sound straight out of the British Invasion (think Yardbirds, Zombies, Traffic...). But I'm still trying to figure out what's going on in this song; Smash Mouth songs tend to be so crammed with words, it always take a while to sort out what (if anything) they're on about.

It's definitely putting down media saturation and trendoids ("I'd like to buy the world a toke / And teach the world to sing in perfect harmony"; "If you got the goods they'll come and buy it just to stay in the clique," "So don't delay, act now / Supplies are running out") but then it starts to ruminate on history. "Twenty five years ago / They spoke out and they broke out / Of recession and oppression and together they toked / And they folked out with guitars around a bonfire" -- hey, that's my generation you kids are talking about! "Just singin' and clappin' / Man what the hell happened" -- I keep asking myself that very same thing.

Given their penchant for cover songs -- the Monkees "I'm A Believer," Steely Dan's "Do It Again," the Kinks' "Father Christmas," War's "Why Can't We Be Friends" -- I'm assuming these guys listen to a LOT of old music and dig it. But they're also speaking for restless slackers who can't get with the mass merchandised culture; they're baffled by the devolution of those 60s ideals, and scornful of how we boomers have betrayed our noble intentions. And you know, they've got a point. This band has always struck me as acute social critics, even though they wrap it all up in in-your-face skatehead hostility.

Anyhoo, it's a nifty little number, despite -- or maybe because of -- those borrowed riffs. I highly recommend. If the Police intend to make a comeback, they could do worse than have these guys as their "featured artists" (and leave Elvis to headline his own shows, please). Only catch is, the Police would really have to bring their game up to outdo the kids.

Walking On the Moon sample

Walkin' On the Sun sample


Uncle E said...

Sting's multiple lute excursions were almost enough to make me burn my Police cd's. Almost. I still like the first 3 albums immensely, but the spectre of modern day Sting has tarnished them slightly.

Franko6677 said...

You know, for as much as I love that era of music I've never been able to really connect with the Police. It has always been a take or leave thing for me.

They're really raking it in with the reunion, though, huh?