This is quite literally the greatest Police album you have never heard. Flashback is credited to Eberhard Schoener, but Andy Summers, Stewart Copeland, and Sting are so deeply involved as to make this a de facto collaboration.
Eberhard Schoener is a German director/musician who invited his friend Andy Summers to take part in a show he was creating. The Police had just formed, and were scuffling for gigs, so one day in early 1977 the trio went to Munich. What they encountered there was “A multi media extravaganza of lasers, circus, rock, classical, and electronic music, with ballet dancers and a mime artist,” according to Sting’s liner notes.
When the stage appearances ended, work commenced on what would become Flashback. By all accounts the four got along famously, until the arrival of manager Miles Copeland that is. Copeland’s vision for the Police did not include stints as the backup band for an experimental German composer, and he quickly moved to bury any mentions of this period from their history for good.
Flashback was released in 1978 on a small German label, and promptly disappeared. It has remained an obscure (and extremely rare) curio in the years since. But the album has finally seen the light of day as a CD through the efforts of the MIG label.
This is certainly a far cry from The Police’s debut, Outlandos d’Amour, which was released the same year. All of the tracks on Flashback were written by Eberhard, and take the form of two song cycles. Side one of the original vinyl LP contained a suite of six short tunes, subtitled “From The New World.” It is the description of a journey to the United States and back to Europe. Side two, “From The Old World,” contains three longer tracks meant to evoke a vision of the Rhine, from delta to river head.
“Trans-AM” opens the proceedings with the sound of a jet taking off. This is soon replaced with a minimalist droning melody, which sounds very Krautrock, and Sting’s voice intoning words such as “I want to touch the sky.” The Georgio Moroder-inspired beat of “Why Don’t You Answer” comes next, and for me is the highlight of the album.
“Only The Wind” features some early sequencer sounds, complemented by whooses straight out of Edgar Froese’s textbook. In much the same way as he would do years later as a solo artist, Sting’s voice drifts in and out of the music. Whether he is singing actual words or just acting as accompaniment, the swordsman is ever-present.
The three remaining tracks, “Rhine-Bow,” “Loreley,” and “Magma” are very symphonic in structure, and prominently feature the Orchestra of the Munich Chamber Opera. Schoener’s visual experience is very pronounced on these final cuts, as they sound much like film music.
There is a bonus track appended to the reissue. “Why Don’t You Answer” has been remixed up to 21st century dance-floor standards. The results are pretty average; I much prefer the original Munich-beat version.
Flashback is a very intriguing document of a strange time for all involved. Serious Police fans should definitely hear it, and for those of us who enjoy Krautrock’s many guises, it is also of interest. The rest of the world will probably look upon it as a curiosity at best. Historical relevance aside, though, Flashback seems to be a very personal statement by the artist, and as such is worth a listen.