The Police

The erstwhile trio never released a live record during their heyday, partly because their melodic maestro, Sting, was so prolific that there was always plenty of new material at hand. Now, 11 years after Sting, drummer Stewart Copeland and guitarist Andy Summers officially disbanded, they're at last offering up a double-CD package of two separate concerts that could serve as bookends to the band's wildly successful career.

The first, a torrid set from a November 1979 show at Boston's Orpheum Theatre, captures a hungry rock band on its ascent. From the punk maelstrom of "Next to You" to the Rasta-tinged power pop of "Can't Stand Losing You" that typified their early sound, this concert will have old-time Police fans dancing around the room to Summers' slashing, idiosyncratic playing, Copeland's driving beat and Sting's pure pop vocals.

The second concert, recorded in November 1983 at the Omni in Atlanta, is more predictable, revealing a supergroup that has settled into fame and commercial acceptability. All the Police's biggest FM radio hits, including "King of Pain," "Wrapped Around Your Finger" and "Every Breath You Take," are dutifully presented. Nonetheless, the band's delivery lacks the urgency and controlled chaos of its earlier years. While there's no denying that the first disc is definitely the meatier offering, for real Police fans the whole package is still worth the price of admission. (A & M)

Van Morrison

His 24th studio album finds the Irish minstrel in a looser, more festive mood—a departure from his ruminative output of the past decade. Morrison sounds relaxed as he rambles from the whistling-down-the-lane gambol of "Perfect Fit" to the jazzy swing of "Raincheck" to the finger-snapping R&B of the title track. Perhaps kinship has lifted his spirits. He zestfully duets with his daughter Shana on the bluesy barroom ballad, "You Don't Know Me," that was a hit for Ray Charles in 1962.

But while the tone is lighter, the songs are not particularly distinguished. Carefree is one thing, but some of these tunes, like "I'll Never Be Free" and "Songwriter," sound almost careless, as if they were recorded quickly. A cheery Van is rarer than an all-sunny weekend in summer, but one can't help wishing that on this occasion he had spent a little more time suffering in the studio. (Polydor)

Jody Watley

Nothing is guaranteed in the flavor-of-the-minute world of R&B: hip today, cold tomorrow. Look at Jody Watley. After scoring six Top 10 singles and a pair of platinum albums in the late '80s, the 1987 Best New Artist Grammy winner watched her rising star burn out in the early '90s. But on this, her fifth solo CD, it's clear that Watley, 36, has evolved from the video doll of her early "Looking for a New Love" days into an assured artist who acknowledges current musical trendsetters without aping them. She vamps it up like a one-woman TLC with a tough new-jack swing on the album opener, "The Beat Don't Stop," but avoids that trio's vaguely kiddie vibe. Later on she loses herself in the epic soul of "The Way," sprinkling bits of cool jazz all over the tune's hot, sweaty funk. And for the first time since her 1987 debut, she doesn't stumble when she slows the tempo and dims all the lights. "All Night Love Affair" sports a romantic, summer-in-Provence twist, and "(We Got To Be) Together" simmers so nicely that fans might not even mind that she used an almost identical title for a different tune on her lackluster last album. (Avitone/ Bellmark)

Gene

Following in the lofty footsteps of '80s postpunkers the Smiths, Gene is England's latest Next Big Thing to feature wham-glam guitars and a fey front man with a warbly twang. The band may be possessed by the same somber spirit as the Smiths, but they're not copycats. Unlike Morrissey, leader of the defunct Smiths, who groaned laments like "Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me" and "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" with disarming candor, Gene's vocalist Martin Rossiter hams it up, pouring on the irony. And while the Smiths rocked with a punky spontaneity, Olympian crunchers like "Left-Handed" and "To the City" are lush, expansive and—thanks to Rossiter—deliciously campy. (Polydor)

>Stewart Copeland

TOP COPS

Since the Police disbanded in 1984 suffering from the usual supergroup tensions and clashing egos, each member has continued to thrive musically. Sting has gone on to be a hot solo artist, Summers has recorded six albums on his own, and Copeland has composed film and TV scores (for Wall Street and HBO's The Mike Tyson Story) as well as operas and ballets. "The Police was almost the perfect band experience," now says the 42-year-old Copeland nostalgically from an L.A. recording studio, where he's mixing an album he did with the Albany Symphony Orchestra. "Nobody died of a drug overdose, we went all over the world, and when it was over we were poised to embark upon new careers."

What do you miss about the band?

The thing I remember most fondly were the concerts. The early days in the van were fun. The next stage, when we were in airport lounges all day, was miserable. And then when we had our own plane, that was comfortable. Those shows were hassle-free, and there was just the music without distractions.

When did you last perform together?

At Sting's wedding [to longtime love Trudie Styler] in 1992. There were some funny moments. We were playing "Roxanne," and Andy, just like we used to do, screwed up this one guitar part, and I played my favorite drum fill right over Sting's favorite vocal thing, and we just looked at each other. In the past we would have thrown bricks, but we laughed....These days we still see each other occasionally. It's like siblings. You don't see your brother all the time, but you keep important, if infrequent, communications going.

  • Contributors:
  • Andrew Abrahams,
  • David Hiltbrand,
  • Jeremy Helligar.