Well, what a strange thing this is. True, there have been reggae elements to Sting’s music since he and The Police implored Roxanne not to put her on red light, but certainly eyebrows were raised when it was announced that he would release a pop-reggae record with Jamaica’s Mr. Bombastic, Shaggy. The pair were introduced by a mutual friend and the resulting lead single ‘Don’t Make Me Wait’, a sunny confection whose main hook evokes Bob Marley’s 1977 classic ‘Wait In Vain’, led to a blossoming friendship and this unexpectedly likeable album.
It would be easy – perhaps too easy – to snort with derision at the musical union of a novelty dancehall singer from the early noughties and a pensioner now largely famous for having tantric sex. Let’s have some fun with the most ill-judged elements of ‘44/876’, though, shall we? Yes: Tyne and Wear native Sting drifts into a Jamaican patois with genuinely unbelievable regularity – at one point he invokes “the gho-oast of Bo-ab Moah-arley” (maybe Bob cropped up to possess ‘Don’t Make Me Wait’), and at another refers to a woman as “the butt-ah on my toe-ast”). There is a track on which these world-famous musicians complain about working the ‘Night Shift’. ‘Sad Trombone’ winks at you from the tracklist.
And yet, and yet. There’s something weirdly enjoyable about this cheery abomination of an album. The camaraderie is palpable. These are staggeringly, beautifully unselfconscious men, insulated by success, and they have honestly no idea how ludicrous they look and sound. Take the languid ‘Crooked Tree’, on which Shaggy plays the role of the judge and Sting the accused man, protesting, “The circumstances of my birth were something short of bliss.” Their hearts are in the right place, even if their better judgment was sunning itself somewhere in Kingston.
‘44/867’ offers free love and compassion aplenty, the title name-checking the phone area codes of its amiable authors’ homelands. The pair told reggaeville.com that the album is a love letter to their adopted home, America. “We are both immigrants and we owe a great deal to this country,” Sting said. “It’s not [about] building walls or any of the other crap.” In some ways, this album is boundary-breaking: it batters through good taste, though its reggae-lite template is musically forgettable. Open your hearts to Sting and Shaggy, pop’s hapless unlikely lads.