On this surprising release, both artists bring out the best of each other as a result of their differences.
Album Grade: B-
On the surface, the idea of a collaboration album between a Jamaican dancehall singer and the brooding, former leader of The Police seems to be a fundamentally questionable notion at best.
Best known for 1995’s goofy song, “Bombastic,” Shaggy seems an unlikely singing partner for the self-anointed “King of Pain.” Sting once hung out with Chief Raoni Metuktire of the Amazon Rainforest tribe Kayapó Tribe. He projected a public image as the music world’s political and environmental commentator-in-chief, so what he is doing with the artist who famously sung, “It wasn’t me”? Despite all this, the surprising partnership has resulted in an equally unforeseen album that is a wonderfully pleasant sun-kissed soundtrack to summer.
The album works as a direct result of the disparity of the two artists involved. On 44/876, Shaggy gets serious while Sting learns to loosen up a bit. Both expand their vision and contribute to the growth of the other.
The nature of the album is best illustrated in the opening song, “Morning Is Coming.” This song opens with the joyful singing of a Nightingale who wakes up the character at a quarter to three with their bright tune. Sting sings the role of the weary sleeper while Shaggy plays the role of the cheery bird, urging Sting towards the positive with the hopeful thoughts that accompany the dawn of a new day. It is a metaphor for the times we live in and sets the tone for the relationship between the artists involved. It doesn’t deny Sting’s weary worldview, but by representing the bird, Shaggy is telling his friend to quit complaining and to see the joy that is coming. A perfect way to begin the album.
Reggae beats are central to 44/876 and is a welcome return for Sting especially. As one of the first musicians to turn American ears on to the genre’s form with songs like “Roxanne,” it is familiar ground. Here, Sting adopts a “crooning” style to match the Jamaican beat. This is especially noticeable with his solo turn on “Love Changes Everything.”
“Don’t Make Me Wait” served as the introduction to the collaboration when first released late last year and is the obvious first single. The mid-tempo reggae song is uncluttered and unthreatening “middle-of-the road pop” and appealing to the audience of both artists. While it may not be edgy compared to other acts on the charts, this is musical comfort food and satisfying for music fans of all ages.
“22nd Street” incorporates Sting’s previous jazz influences along with Shaggy’s Rhythm & Blues to create a lighter companion piece to the former’s “Moonlight Over Bourbon Street.” Both artists find themselves walking down the same street, but with completely different stories and emotions. While Sting views the passage as an avenue filled with loneliness and regret over a former love, Shaggy recounts “22nd Street” as the place where he first met the love of his life. The song’s lyrical setting of opposite emotions helps support the track’s sweetly melancholy melody, instrumental background and gently swaying beat. It is a study in contrast.
Sting continues his brooding nature on the dark “Crooked Tree.” Their role-playing continues on this track, finding the two singers on opposite sides of a judicial trial. As the guilty, Sting attempts to offer the reason behind his crimes to Shaggy’s dispassionate judge. The song ends without resolution other than to suggest that the criminal’s motivation was that his crooked soul was carved from an equally crooked tree. The song falls flat both lyrically and musically. The only part of the album that doesn’t connect and is ultimately pointless.
“Dreaming In The U.S.A.” is a timely song that takes a look at American culture from an outsider’s point of view. The English Sting recounts how everything from his childhood, from the shoes on his feet to the music in his ears, had its origins in the America. Where Sting’s intro verse is wide-eyed and amazed, this time it’s the Jamaican born Shaggy that takes the more realistic view. He references his time served in the U.S. Marine Corp before Sting joins to celebrate the immigrant who “gets up every morning working two jobs to make it here in America.” An honest song of its time and sums up the overall tone of this unexpectedly warm album.
Bottom Line: A delightful album from start to finish that keeps its optimism tempered by the realities of life, 44/876 is solid as a result of the disparity of the two artists involved. A thoughtful bit of summer fun that makes room for deeper introspection.
Sting & Shaggy will play The Amory in Minneapolis on Sunday, Sept. 30 at 8 p.m.
By Daniel G. Moir