Sting & Shaggy - 44/876 (Review)

Martin_Canine STING & SHAGGY

I must admit that when I read that Sting and Shaggy were making a collaboration, my first thoughts were that it’s sad these two guys’ careers were at a point where they had to form this unlikely team up to remain at least someone relevant. Sting is one of the most beloved music artists of all time. Not just in a pop cultural way, but he is very acknowledged in sophisticated circles as a poet, a lyrical and musical genius, but isn’t quite what the youth of today is into right now, and is most popular with mature audiences. Shaggy on the other hand is Mr. Boombastic, a former 90s pop star whose legacy consists of a bunch of mega-hits with only one of them managing to stay around internationally, despite commercial success and critical acclaim. Both of them have every right to be around in 2018, but I was pretty sure that they wouldn’t appeal to modern audiences, except for their classic songs that still receive airplay. Collaborations usually sell better than solo albums, causing two fanbases to collectively buy a record, and when I heard that this one was in the making, I found the idea to sound desperate - this would have needed to be released in the 90s, at their peak. I expected this album to go straight under the radar, and each of the two musicians would be left with a legacy of songs from past decades. And I was worried that the music on the album couldn’t reach the full potential each of the artists could do on their own. They had to find a common basis to work on - what could that possibly be?

But then the album started to get more and more coverage, and actually became pretty anticipated on music websites. It ended up topping the German charts and entered the Top Ten in the UK, Belgium, Poland, Switzerland and Austria, to a surprisingly positive critical reception. I got more confident that maybe the project DOES work in some strange way.

After the opening title track kicked in, all the skepticism came back - you just don’t want the man who brought us Russians and Shape of My Heart to sound like a modern day pop artist, even if the song he performs is a good one. Don’t believe I wouldn’t care about Shaggy, but a more updated, electronic approach suits him, who has always played around with techno elements, anyway, while it takes some time to get used to with traditional singer-songwriter Sting. But as the song goes on, you start listening closer, and hear him sing how the politics of the country are getting to him and that he has a dream of swimming in the Caribbean Sea, and his voice gives in to the sensation so much that you actually feel it too - you just hope for some less poppy and more oldschool production. This wish shall be fulfilled: 44/876 is full of love, life and some nice, old fashioned music writing craft after you got over the first three minutes. At some of its best parts, which are many, it feels like a throwback to times when the two of them were on top of the game. It’s an incredibly strong record, with many powerful moments and a very distinctive sound. As soon as the soul-ish crooning of Waiting For the Break of Day begins, the album won you over completely. Hey, it’s Sting. One of the let’s say five most acclaimed songwriters in music history, and there’s a pretty damn good reason: he’s great, and he knows what he does. And heck, Shaggy knows how to make some decent reggae music as well.

The album’s music has the two musicians contributing equal parts to the entire concept. Sometimes you hear one’s influence clearer than the other’s, but on each song, clear elements of both can be found. Sting and Shaggy are always credited as the main songwriters of every track, and it was most likely a perfectly balanced composing and writing process. The light hearted Jamaican rhythms, the soft jazz inspired singing vocals, the straightforward celebration of good feelings, the literary and finely worded odes… Shaggy and Sting are not as much an odd couple as you might expect, and as I have expected. In fact, they appear like friends who share a common vision and view on the world, but prefer different methods of saying it. It’s these diverging nuances of saying the same things that make them complement each other. And they have such great respect for each other that no one ever takes the spotlight. Whether it’s “I be rocking in my shoes to this sweet reggae groove / Ain't nobody gonna spoil my mood / To this beautiful sunshine, I'm rising up / Just a positive vibe mi use and build me up” or “The planets turn in retrograde / The moon seems to have fled / The world is spinning upside down / And landed on its head”, it all comes down to a universal feeling of enjoyment for what the world has to offer. However, between all this lust for life, there are also some slight instances of melancholy, especially when it comes to the topic of love, as well as some political issues that need to be addressed: “You see some politicians / You hear the things they say / You hear the falseness in their positions / We're waitin' for the break of day” or “Blue moon rising, tides and dark skies / Overnight passing ships will collide / Overside clearly seen at moon-tide / Chest full belly, I think I'm swallowed by”

What is also a treat is that 44/876 is an album that shines through both its lyricism and its musicality. Apart from the mostly electronic opening song, there lies a great deal of decent instrumentation in the record, with the Caribbean flavor of reggae and the classic Britpop fusing to an intelligent mixture of textures and cultures. Each singer/writer keeps their own distinctive personality in this ambitious joint project, and adds something to the nation and genre bending experience that no one else could. And I am happy that I was wrong in two points. Firstly, this was anything but an attempt to get at least some attention, this was a collaboration for the sake of artistry. And secondly, it was a hit.