Stewart Copeland sounds almost apologetic.
The Police drummer's discussing the band's new greatest-hits collection, "Every Breath You Take--the Singles," which, like most greatest-hits collections these days, includes just one previously unreleased song as a sales hook.
"It seems very cheesy when you see that there's only one new track and it's not even a new track," Copeland admits, referring to the inclusion of a recent re-recording of "Don't Stand So Close to Me"--a 1981 hit that's been so radically rearranged in its new incarnation that it's scarcely recognizable.
"But the way we arrived at it is not so terrible. That's just the way it turned out--it wasn't what we set out to do. I would've been personally much happier with recording some new tunes and making a new record."
So who's the villain here?
It's Copeland himself, but not deliberately so.
The Police--who haven't recorded an album or toured together since the mammoth success of "Synchronicity" in 1983--reunited briefly earlier this year to climax a nationally televised Amnesty International benefit in New Jersey. They so enjoyed themselves, says Copeland, that they started thinking about going back into the studio together, if only to collectively remix old tracks for the long-considered greatest-hits collection.
Then they began to think about actually re-recording some of the old tracks. That led to talking about recording some new tracks . . . and word got out that an all-new Police album was in the works.
Then Copeland broke his arm.
"That meant that we couldn't jam and that slowed down all of our recording," says Copeland, speaking by phone from his home in London. "We only had a given period to work in before Sting had to get to Africa to do a film he was shooting and before our three paths diverged again.
"So we went back to our original plan of releasing a compilation album. . . . We were planning to re-record 'De Do Do Do' too, but 'Don't Stand So Close to Me' took so long that we didn't get to it."
Even with just one "new" track, the album is selling briskly. Out just three weeks, it is already past the 1.2-million mark.
What are the chances of another Police studio album?
"We don't make any promises one way or the other," the drummer says. "It's a difficult position. I have the greatest enthusiasm for the mission. But it's hard to get all three of us in one place at one time. I can tell you from the bottom of my heart that what I really am in the mood for is a Police tour. Just two months of it would be perfect.
"All the other stuff I do is very cerebral and intellectual, and that's how I make my living, but playing drums is like an indoor sport for me, and I don't get to play my drums with a band. My musical world is rich and varied, but the one thing my life lacks is a two-month concert tour."
After scoring for film ("Rumble Fish"), television ("The Equalizer") and doing "The Rhythmatist"--an Afro-pop album and full-length video that predates Paul Simon's current popular success--Copeland has been commissioned at no small fee to write an opera. He hopes to finish it by Christmas, with a full-orchestra premiere in Cleveland a year or more away. It probably won't be a musical-comedy--it's about the Crusades.
"I grew up in Lebanon," he points out. "Beirut was my hometown. And the battle that the Crusades fought is still being fought there. There was for about 200 years a Christian kingdom in the Holy Land, and through failure to deal with the indigenous population, it perished.
"Those issues are still being fought over today in that area. I have a lot of strong feelings on the subject, but I think it would be more useful to make the point with protagonists that have been dead for several hundred years."