For a short but significant time at the turn of the ’80s, the Police’s Andy Summers was the future of guitar playing, advancing a dreamy reggae-inflected sound that influenced everyone from Rush to Radiohead. The six-string softness was a key element of new wave’s domination of the mainstream, but it also smuggled in a lot of jazzy harmonies and rippling sophistication, climaxing on the Police’s monster hit “Every Breath You Take” (a Summers riff that he recorded in one take).
It’s an achievement that shouldn’t be minimized, least of all by Summers himself. Can’t Stand Losing You: Surviving the Police shorts viewers on the musical importance—indeed, on the music in general. Instead, it’s structured like a shallow, chronological
tell-all (as was Summers’s 2006 autobiography, One Train Later, on which this is based). Older and more experienced than his bandmates, the guitarist was in the perfect place to observe Sting’s dawning ego, but his self-excoriating observations are typical back-of-limo stuff: “I am a rock & roll asshole, an emaciated millionaire prick,” he says of his lifestyle circa 1981. It doesn’t help that Summers’s narration sounds distinctly narcotized.
Onscreen, we hop from tense backstage clips of the band squabbling through the MTV era to Summers’s arty black-and-white photos—a hobby, he says, that kept him sane. Even if these self-conscious shots always feel like the snaps that adorn album liner notes, they capture the loneliness of touring and groupie scoring.
In any case, they’re better than footage of the group’s lucrative 2007 reunion tour, a soulless spectacle of going through the motions, here presented like it was an affectionate goodbye to fans. (It wasn’t.) The doc’s most intriguing moment has Summers dropping into a Japanese karaoke bar and singing along to an in-progress Police hit, an affable man wandering through his own legacy.
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