The Police's Greatest Hits Package remixed for 5.1 SACD

The Police have always been a well-produced, superbly recorded group. The first album, Outlandos D’amour, was an explosive, starkly recorded document. Issued as the punk movement ascended, the band chose to emphasize a propulsive, reggae infused rhythmic thrust rather than its considerable instrumental virtuosity. Stewart Copeland kept his pounding beats relatively simple, jazz virtuoso guitarist Andy Summers made do with slashing rhythmic attacks, and Sting shot his impossibly high-pitched rasp seemingly out of a cannon. Engineers Nigel and Chris Gray complied by keeping the miking close and the production simple, yet dramatically immediate and natural sounding. The first album was “in your face” big.

As the group—and especially Sting—stretched out and grew over the course of the next five albums, there was more rhythmic, harmonic and textural complexity, along with a level of emotional subtlety difficult to imagine from listening to the first record. Looking back now—and listening to this greatest hits set— it’s clear that the trio was “playing” at being a rock group, more than it actually considered itself one.

The track lineup—all tunes by Sting—is “Roxanne,” “Can’t Stand Losing You,” “Message in a Bottle,” “Walking on the Moon,” “Don’t Stand So Close to Me,” a dreamy, alternate take of “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da,” “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” “Invisible Sun,” “Spirits In the Material World,” “Every Breath You Take,” “King of Pain,” “Wrapped Around Your Finger,” “Don’t Stand so Close to Me ’86,” and “Message In A Bottle (New Classic Rock Mix).” The last two tracks are completely expendable, and I can think of more than two tunes not here that would have been preferable, but not “Mother,” or Miss Gredenko,” thank you!

This hybrid multi-channel disc serves as a fine sampler of Universal Music’s SACD remastered Police catalog, but for some reason, the company chose to issue the other Police titles as single layer SACDs with no multi-channel remixing, thus ignoring the fantastic success ABKCO had with its Rolling Stones hybrid SACD catalog. Worse, the packaging does not make it clear that the disc will play on any CD player, thus confusing an already confused public.

Some of these tracks were remixed for 5.1 from analog multi-track originals, while others sound as if some rear channel reverb was simply tacked onto the existing 2 channel mixes. At least one of the albums— I suspect 1983’s wildly uneven Synchronicitywas recorded digitally in the first place, so an SACD remastering can’t help much in terms of resolution.

Overall this disc sounds quite good—far better on the SACD layer of course—compared to what’s been offered previously, and the other discs in the series also sound better than their earlier CD counterparts, but when I compared the SACD of Ghost In the Machine (069 493 605-2) with a $2 garage sale original A&M pressing, there was no contest: the LP simply smoked the SACD in my opinion and in the opinion of non-audiophile friends who listened—and that was using the $33,000 DCS Verdi, Purcell, Elgar stack! Still, as a ‘greatest hits’ package or as an SACD sampler, this does nicely, and if you have a 5.1 channel SACD system, you’ll enjoy the remixes.