Release Date: Apr 20, 2018
Record label: Interscope
Sting spent the entirety of his career studiously avoiding the appearance of having a good time, which is why his 2018 collaboration with reggae star Shaggy seemed so odd: at the age of 66, the rock star decided it was finally time to crack a smile. 44/876 -- a collaboration named after the phone codes for their respective home countries -- is most certainly a party record, albeit one that cooks at a low simmer as it swings between fleet-footed reggae sunsplash tunes and mellow grooves. If Sting seems subservient to Shaggy, that makes sense.
Sting's last album, 57th & 9th, was a surprisingly straight-ahead, rock-oriented affair. Here, he pulls another detour, teaming up with Jamaican reggae-pop growler Shaggy. The sunny, nonchalant results often suggest Roxanne hitting a Sandals resort, trading her red dress for a string bikini and flip-flops. Extending his bona fides, Sting evokes "the ghost of Bob Marley that haunts me to this day" on the buoyant title track, which, like everything on the album, is co-credited to Sting, Shaggy and their backing musicians.
Why Shaggy? Presumably, if Sting wanted to go 50/50 on a reggae album, he had options. Toots Hibbert is still in fine voice. The Wailers aren't really the Wailers anymore, but Sting and the Wailers has a hell of a ring to it. And if he were looking to make a splash on the adult contemporary charts, Michael Franti probably could have made it happen.
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.