The Police: Zenyatta Mondatta – [Record 106]
Zenyatta Mondatta is the third album by The Police, released in 1980. It features the two mega hit singles: “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” and “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da”. It was their third and final album to bear a Foreign language title. The album won The Police two Grammy Awards including Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” and The Police’s second consecutive win for Best Rock Instrumental Performance for “Behind My Camel”. Although the album was well received, it is the only Police album not listed on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
1, Don’t Stand So Close to Me.
2, Driven to Tears.
3, When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What’s Still Around.
4, Canary in a Coalmine.
5, Voices Inside My Head.
6, Bombs Away.
7, De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da.
8, Behind My Camel.
9, Man in a Suitcase.
10, Shadows in the Rain.
11, The Other Way of Stopping.
History: The album was written during the band’s second tour and recorded in four weeks (minus several days for concerts in the UK – Milton Keynes festival – and Ireland). The band members have often expressed disappointment over it, going so far as to re-record two songs during a brief, unsuccessful reunion in 1986. Drummer Stewart Copeland said about the time pressures: “We had bitten off more than we could chew. … we finished the album at 4 a.m. on the day we were starting our next world tour. We went to bed for a few hours and then traveled down to Belgium for the first gig. It was cutting it very fine.”
The band had wanted to record the album at Surrey Sound, the recording site of their first two albums, but could not record at any British studio for tax reasons. They were, however, able to retain Nigel Gray as their co-producer, bringing him with them to Wisseloord Studios in the Netherlands. Feeling that he’d played a significant part in The Police’s first two albums, Gray negotiated for a £25,000 fee, which brought the album’s total budget to £35,000 (more than twice the combined budgets of their first two albums, but still exceptionally cheap for a band who were established stars).
As mentioned by Copeland, the Police embarked on a tour of the world the day of the album’s completion, beginning in Belgium and finishing in Australia.
The album is the last of the Police’s early era, influenced by reggae and punk and featuring few musical elements on top of the core guitar, bass, and drums. The record has two instrumentals, “The Other Way of Stopping” and the Grammy-winning “Behind My Camel” (a third song, “Voices Inside My Head”, is instrumental except for the words “Voices inside my head/Echoes of things that you said”, which are repeated three times in the middle of the song). “Behind My Camel” was guitarist Andy Summers’ first entirely self-penned composition. As with many of Summers and Copeland’s compositions, Sting refused to play on it, an act of protest which usually resulted in the song in question being scrapped. Convinced of the song’s quality, however, Summers recorded the bass line himself, overdubbing the guitar parts. According to Sting, “I hated that song so much that, one day when I was in the studio, I found the tape lying on the table. So I took it around the back of the studio and actually buried it in the garden.” Nigel Gray believes that the title was an in-joke by Summers: “He didn’t tell me this himself but I’m 98% sure the reason is this: what would you find behind a camel? A monumental pile of shit.” The song went on to win the 1982 Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
Zenyatta Mondatta also saw the band’s lyrics turning towards political events, with Sting’s “Driven to Tears” commenting on poverty and Copeland’s “Bombs Away” referring to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. These themes became more prevalent in the Police’s next album, Ghost in the Machine.
Six years later the band re-recorded “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” and “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da”. The former was released on Every Breath You Take: The Singles, while the latter was released on the DTS version of Every Breath You Take: The Classics.
Title: Copeland has claimed that the group arrived at the album’s title after deciding it should roll off the tongue. Zenyatta Mondatta are invented portmanteau words, hinting at Zen, at Jomo Kenyatta, at the French word for the world (“le monde”) and at Reggatta, from the previous album’s name, Reggatta de Blanc.
“It means everything. It’s the same explanation that applies to the last two. It doesn’t have a specific meaning like ‘Police Brutality’ or ‘Police Arrest’, or anything predictable like that. Being vague it says a lot more. You can interpret it in a lot of different ways. It’s not an attempt to be mysterious, just syllables that sound good together, like the sound of a melody that has no words at all has a meaning. Miles (Stewart Copeland’s brother and group manager) came up with “Trimondo Blondomina”. Very subtle. Geddit? Like three blondes and the world. Then somebody thought of “Caprido Von Renislam”. That rolls off the tongue. It was the address of the studio.”
Jerry Moss, co-founder of A&M Records, named the champion racehorse Zenyatta (b. 2004) after this album.
Reception: Zenyatta Mondatta reached #1 in both Australia and the U.K. In the U.S., the album spent almost three years on the charts and peaked at #5. It would later receive glowing reviews from re-assessments in Rolling Stone and Q Magazine, among others, but was the least well-received of the five albums by The Police, and the only one not to obtain a spot on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.