My bet—anyone growing up in the 1980s has a story involving The Police Album Synchronicity. I remember Synchronicity from senior year at Serra High School. The album had staying power then and it continues today. Rolling Stone ranked Synchronicity #159 of the 500 top albums of all time in 2020. Jumping into the way back machine and checking in with 1989, Synchronicity was ranked No. 17 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 best albums of the 1980s. Pitchfork ranked the record at No. 55 on its 2002 list of the decade’s 100 best albums. And in 2006, Q placed Synchronicity at No. 25 on its list of the 40 best 1980s albums.
Rolling Stone goes on to comment—”Synchronicity is a work of dazzling surfaces and glacial shadows. Pithy verses deal with doomsday. A battery of rhythms — pop, reggae and African — lead a safari into a physical and spiritual desert, the Police’s fifth and finest album, is about things ending — the world in peril, the failure of personal relationships and marriage, the death of God.”
Even as a kid, I wondered what Synchronicity was—the word sounds mysterious, important, and strangely cool—and why are there two songs on the album dealing with it (Synchronicity I and Synchronicity II)—so heck it must be important.
Sting says “It coincides with my reading at the moment. You can substitute symbolist for synchronicity in the title song. The man’s anxiety and aggression are symbolized by an event in a lake somewhere far away, without any causal connection between the two. That’s synchronicity, drawing that analogy. In a sense, it’s creating it because there are times in everyone’s life when something you encounter becomes a symbol for your state of mind. It’s just projecting your state into the world of symbolism, which is what poetry’s all about, really.” (Musician, 6/83)
Thanks Sting—that might not be helpful…
Sting later clarifies: The title of the album refers to coincidence and things being connected without there being a logical link. For instance, in the title cut there’s a domestic situation where there’s a man who’s on the edge of paranoia, and as his paranoia increases, a monster takes shape in a Scottish lake, the monster being a symbol for the man’s anxiety. That’s a synchronistic situation. They’re not connected logically, but symbolically and emotionally they are. (Rolling Stone, 9/83)
Synchronicity is actually a concept, first introduced by analytical psychologist Carl Jung, which holds that events are “meaningful coincidences” if they occur with no causal relationship yet seem to be meaningfully relate.
During his career, Jung furnished several different definitions of the term, defining synchronicity as an “acausal connecting (togetherness) principle;” “meaningful coincidence;” “acausal parallelism;” and as a “meaningful coincidence of two or more events where something other than the probability of chance is involved.”
Jung’s belief was that, just as events may be connected by causality, they may also be connected by meaning. Events connected by meaning need not have an explanation in terms of causality, which does not generally contradict universal causation but in specific cases can lead to prematurely giving up causal explanation.
So—why two songs? Synchronicity I really defines the concept of synchronicity at least in Police terms:
A connecting principle
Linked to the invisible
Logic so inflexible
Nothing is invincible
The lyrics are definitely inspired by Carl Jung‘s own theory of synchronicity. Also included in the lyrics is a term from “The Second Coming,” “Spiritus Mundi” (translating to “spirit of the world”), which William Butler Yeats used to refer to the collective unconscious, another of Jung’s theories. Yeats’ poem is eerie and as relevant today as it was in the 1980s and as disturbing as it was when written after WWI.
The poem uses Christian imagery regarding the Apocalypse and Second Coming to allegorically describe the atmosphere of post-war Europe. It is considered a major work of modernist poetry
With phrases like—”Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Robert Santelli of Relix Magazine said, “‘Synchronicity I’ is as close as the Police have ever flirted with musical anarchy: nothing seems to fit as each musician drains himself with relentless pokes and punches that ultimately ends in a KO. Just check the video below…
Synchronicity II really is an example of synchronicity in action. The song nominally tells the story of a father whose home, work life, and environment are dispiriting and depressing. In an early stretch of lyrics we find “Grandmother screaming at the wall”, as well as “mother chants her litany of boredom and frustration, but we know all her suicides are fake”. Later, we hear about humiliation by his boss (“and every single meeting with his so-called superior/is a humiliating kick in the crotch”), all the while he “knows that something somewhere has to break”. Meanwhile, something monstrous is emerging from a “dark Scottish lake/loch”, a reference to the Loch Ness Monster—a parallel to the father’s own inner anguish.
There’s a domestic situation where there’s a man who’s on the edge of paranoia, and as his paranoia increases a monster takes shape in a Scottish lake, the monster being a symbol of the man’s anxiety. That’s a synchronistic situation. -— Sting, ‘A Visual Documentary’, 1984
Sting later explained the theme of the song to Time magazine:
“Jung believed there was a large pattern to life, that it wasn’t just chaos. Our song Synchronicity II is about two parallel events that aren’t connected logically or causally, but symbolically.”
“Synchronicity II” also may have taken further inspiration from Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming.” The theme of “The Second Coming” is similar to that of “Synchronicity II”—a civilization beginning to collapse, and the rise of something new, something perhaps savage, to take its place.
It’s interesting how a song released 21 October 1983—and a song that arguably defined the sense and feel of the 1980s resonates 4 decides later. Sting goes on to say—Synchronicity’ is really more autobiographical. It’s about my mental breakdown and the putting back together of that personality. I’d hope that once I am mended my ideas would be more objective…. I write from experience, but it’s not one that’ll ring bells anywhere else. The ‘on the road’ songs have all been done, so… I write about my own psychological state hoping that someone will sympathize.