Yep, that happened. You read it correctly. It’s not a misprint. The former frontman of ‘80s pop-rock group The Police really did make an album with Mr. Boombastic himself, and they really did release it on 4⁄20. Honestly, I’m still in as much disbelief as you. It all sounds like a joke. In accordance, I thought this review would be something of a joke as well, but, surprisingly, the album is not actually as terrible as you’d expect. Don’t get me wrong, it’s far from amazing, but there are certainly some good songs to be found.
So how did the most unexpected collaboration of the century come about? Well, Sting and Shaggy claim they have a lot in common. Somehow I doubt that, but one thing they definitely do share is mutual friend Martin Kirszenbaum (a.k.a. Cherry Cherry Boom Boom) – founder of Cherrytree Records and Sting’s manager. He happened to be working in the studio with Shaggy and asked Sting to sing a chorus on ‘Don’t Make Me Wait’. That in itself isn’t so weird. Such things are common in show business. But, the guys apparently enjoyed working together so much that they decided to record a whole album. That turned out to be a bit too much for the world – or at least for Sting fans. Over the years we got used to his experiments, such as Songs from the Labyrinth, a collection of renaissance songs written by John Dowland, or, more recently, The Last Ship, a musical about the collapse of Newcastle’s shipbuilding industry. Seemingly unlikely collaborations aren’t even that rare anymore (think Elton John and Eminem, Paul McCartney and Kanye). But still, I’m not sure anyone was prepared for this head-on collision of artist and meme.
“Over the years Sting has experimented, but I’m not sure anyone was prepared for this head-on collision”
Whiplash runs through the record. The point of such collaborations is to step out of your comfort zone, try new things, and adapt to a different environment and partner. Sting was heavily influenced by reggae in his Police days, so perhaps it wasn’t completely new territory for him, but he’s never made a straight reggae album like 44⁄876. It does, however, serve as a reminder of how versatile a musician he is, another instance of him taking an alien genre and seamlessly integrating into it. It’s also worth pointing out his spotless vocals on the album. Decades of rigorous practice has allowed Sting to perfect and maintain his voice in spite of aging. Obviously it has changed, but in a good way – it sounds strong, mature, and still absolutely flawless.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Shaggy. He seems stuck in his dancehall manner throughout, either unable or unwilling to leave his comfort zone. Both musicians have argued that their voices nicely complement each other. I disagree. I’m not sure if it’s just a preference or because I can’t detach from ‘Mr. Boombastic’, but I find his vocals irritating. And I’m not the only one. While some Sting fans accept his new friend, many others are desperately trying to get ‘Shaggyless’ mixes and album covers. Not a great sign.
Perhaps this is a bit harsh. At the end of the day, Shaggy is a good entertainer – he was the only artist who really got the crowd going at the Queen’s birthday party last Saturday. And if it wasn’t for him we would probably never have heard the Newcastle rockman singing ‘It wasn’t me’ (check it out on YouTube, you won’t regret it).
If you do give 44⁄876 a go, don’t be put off by the opener, a typical dancehall track akin to Shaggy’s earlier work with introductory lyrics – by far the worst on the record. This unimaginative start is followed by the optimistic, Marley-esque ‘Morning is coming’.
“The artists’ collaboration is a bit too much for the world – or at least for Sting fans, who are asking for ‘Shaggyless’ mixes”
Once ignited, this warm reggae flame burns soothingly throughout most of the album. Slight pop-leanings are seen in ‘Gotta Get Back My Baby’ and ‘Don’t Make Me Wait’, but not at the expense of more reflective tunes. The great American Dream (or lack thereof) has been the subject of many recent releases (see: LCD Soundsystem, David Byrne). Sting & Shaggy offer their take from the perspective of migrants in Police-like ‘Dreaming in the USA’. The lyrics are a conversation between singers, each presenting their own views. This thread runs through other tracks such ‘Just One Lifetime’ and ‘Crooked Tree’.
The best is saved until last. The highlight of the album is undoubtedly ‘Sad Trombone’ – a nostalgia-tinged slow groover with minimal Shaggyisms, a jazzy flavour, and touching lyrics about unhappiness in love. Rounding off is ‘Night Shift’, which emulates a similar vibe (although lyrically different), bringing the LP to a neat end.
To summarise, the idea of Sting recording a reggae album was definitely a hit, but his choice of collaborator perhaps missed the mark somewhat. If he’d teamed up with somebody more flexible and imaginative, such as Horace Andy, he could’ve ended up with something far more interesting than nice reggae. Although, Sting has often said in interviews that the most important thing in music for him is the element of surprise. Well it’s safe to say that everyone was astonished by this collaboration. If that was the goal, mission accomplished.
Artist: Sting and Shaggy. Label: Interscope. Top Tracks: Sad Trombone; Just One Lifetime; Morning is Coming. For Fans Of: Reggae. 42 minutes