Mark Spicer deposited “‘Reggatta de Blanc’: Analyzing Style in the Music of the Police.” in the group Society for Music Theory – Popular Music Interest Group (SMT PMIG) on Humanities Commons 3 weeks, 6 days ago
In this essay, I present a methodology for analyzing style in pop and rock that confronts the issue of stylistic eclecticism, focusing on a body of work that offers a particularly interesting case study in this regard, namely the music of the Police. Formed in London in 1977, a particularly turbulent year in the history of British pop, this groundbreaking trio—consisting of drummer Stewart Copeland, bassist, lead vocalist, and main composer Sting, and guitarist Andy Summers—fused elements of reggae, punk, prog, and jazz, among others, to create a hybrid style that was uniquely their own. My analysis proceeds in two stages. First, I identify a number of specific musical devices—or “topics,” after Leonard Ratner—each of which has come to be associated with a particular style or affect, either from within or outside of pop and rock. Taken together, this catalog of musical devices could be viewed as a kind of “Universe of Style” for the Police’s music. Second, I demonstrate these topics at work through detailed analyses of selected individual tracks. While some songs (such as “The Bed’s Too Big Without You”) remain true to the reggae style throughout, others (such as “Roxanne” and “Spirits in the Material World”) wrestle between two or more conflicting styles. I show that the resultant interplay among the various topics in such hybrid songs not only enriches the musical language, but also amplifies the song’s overall message.