Shaggy and Sting together on the same album? Sure! Why not? Pete Douglas reviews.
Were we living in the year 2006, the random chucking together of Jamaican dancehall cross-over king Shaggy and tantric sex master Sting might seem like something two high A&R reps cooked up at an industry conference. During a bygone era of record company largesse, such gambles by cashed-up major labels trying to fluke a hit out of pop heavyweights down on their luck were fairly commonplace (this is the entire pretence behind the inexplicably successful, Grammy award-winning Santana record Supernatural).
Arriving as it does in 2018 however, the full length 44/876 (the title is apparently mash-up of the international dialling codes of each of the protagonist’s homelands, rather than a reference to their respective ages) is a harder thing to explain away. Having already inflicted themselves on the world during the 2018 Grammys broadcast (You want Lorde? Fuck you – have these two instead!), the pair inexplicably extend their bromance across the length of an entire album.
Shaggy has little to lose in this dalliance. While he has been roundly ignored in most markets since the early-2000s he continues to churn out records and operates as a commercial behemoth in his homeland Jamaica.
Sting, on the other hand, hasn’t really seemed interested in pop music much at all over the past 15 years, dabbling instead on the fringes via projects such as a pair of classical crossover albums, the most self-consciously serious Christmas record every recorded (If on a Winter’s Night), a predictable symphonic record (the awfully named Symphonicities), a Broadway musical set in ’80s Britain based around a struggling shipyard (The Last Ship), culminating in a somber return to straight ahead pop songwriting (57th & 9th).
None of this does anything but reinforce the idea that Sting is a very serious man, and the juxtaposition of his pompous pretension with Shaggy’s shameless loverman mugging is partly what makes 44/876 so fascinating.
Things begin innocently enough – the title track is a smooth slice of Shaggy’s crossover pop but it is quickly undercut by Sting’s distractingly-awful faux Jamaican lilt. To be fair to Gordon Sumner he does provide fair warning of what may follow – bemoaning the state of world politics, invoking the ghost of Bob Marley and singing of having his “soul shaken by a positive vibration” all within the first track.
But none of this foreboding can prepare the listener for the oddest of what is to come. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Sting cannot keep his pretensions at bay, but the way in which they surface is jarring and often unintentionally hilarious. He paraphrases Lewis Carroll (“The time has come, as Shaggy says, to say a great many things”), refers to a female companion as “tha butter on me toast”, and sets up a mini-courtroom drama in which he plays the accused on the stand and Shaggy the judge on the absurd slow burn of ‘Crooked Tree’. Through it all, one can only hold respect for Shaggy, if only for his saintly patience toward his cerebral partner.
All this adds up to a fascinating car-crash of a record. It’s not good, but 44/876 is morbidly alluring in a way that may well make you far more likely to return to it in 12 or 24 months’ time than the dozens of “pretty good” releases that will pepper the rest of the calendar year. “The most important thing in music is surprise,” states Sting in the pre-release press material for the album, and in their own strange way, this odd couple prove him to be at least partially right.
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