I was flipping TV channels last night and caught just a few minutes from a documentary about Sting in which a couple of people analyzed what made The Police's distinct sound. One person talked about how, while Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland played expressionistically with shimmering guitar and lots of brushwork on cymbals, Sting played raegae and jazz rhythms on bass. (Of course Sting was not the only person to do this.)
It reminds me of a larger feeling I have about integrating other genres and other countries' music traditions into rock. Too often I think it's done very heavy-handedly. Whether it's sitar, gamelan percussion, classical harpiscord, or steel drums, I think often when these instruments come in they are a distraction, because the person playing those instruments is playing in the style or genre with which that instrument is associated, even though they're ultimately playing in a rock song. I prefer the idea that one play either with foreign style to rock with a rock instrument (guitar, bass or drums), or you play with a traditional rock style using a non-rock instrument.
Ironically, despite citing Sting during his days in The Police as example of the right way to blend rock with other influences, his later solo career is in my mind a lesson in how not to do it. There are songs of his where any number of international influences suddenly burst in, be it Arabic or African or Caribbean. I like the idea of trying that, but the music has to add up to more than a sum of its parts, and the parts need not be so visible.