A breezy reggae album from Sting and Shaggy was unexpected, but not all that shocking. These guys often turn up in unlikely pairings: think back to Shaggy’s collabs with Cyndi Lauper and Chris Martin, for example, or Sting touring with everyone from the Grateful Dead to the Royal Philharmonic. And of course 40 years and a dozen sometimes dour solo albums ago, Sting made his name playing Caribbean-inflected rock with the Police.
“We’re not as different as it may seem,” Shaggy told Billboard the night before they debuted their union on the Grammys earlier this year. “We have a lot in common, and we found that out in making this record, how alike we are, about our values and about our craft, about music, about humanity, about nature.”
44/876, which refers to the country codes for the duo’s native UK and Jamaica, debuted at #1 on Billboard’s reggae album chart last month and its sunny lead single, “Don’t Make Me Wait,” has given the veteran hitmakers an unlikely reappearance on top 40 radio. Most of the album was recorded with Sting International, the dancehall producer both Sting and Shaggy worked with on early solo albums.
There are other familiar collaborators too, including Sting’s band’s guitarist Dominic Miller and longtime Shaggy multi-instrumentalist Dwayne Shippy. Branford Marsalis turns up on the Motown-inspired, pro-immigrant “Dreaming In The U.S.A.” — it’s the Blue Turtles saxophonist’s first appearance on a Sting LP in 19 years. Later, on “Sad Trombone,” Clark Gayton interpolates Marsalis’ riff from 1987 Sting deep cut “History Will Teach Us Nothing” on the titular instrument. (In an instance of possible foreshadowing, Sting used to merge that song with Bob Marley and Peter Tosh”s “Get Up, Stand Up” in concerts of that era.) Elsewhere, the electro-pop singer Elliot Sumner gets a credit on the dubby “Night Shift”; it’s the first writing collaboration I’m aware of between Sting and one of his children.
Speaking of children, on the day Sting and Shaggy dropped by our office to record a Stereogum Session there were a dozen kids on hand for Take Your Children To Work Day. Sting reminded us he was once a schoolteacher and jokingly sang “The Wheels On The Bus” during soundcheck. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the 44/876 rollout, aside from the fact that Sting’s croon and Shaggy’s growl sound good together, is how much fun these guys seem to be having in each other’s company even after several months of promotional appearances. The Police this was not.
Maybe it was in the spirit of leaving egos at the door that Sting demurred when it was time to wrap up the session with one of his solo songs. Instead he suggested doing a second Shaggy number. (Intriguingly there had been lyric sheets for “Englishman In New York” on-hand for Shaggy’s arrival, and I hadn’t put them there.) So in our video you’ll see Sting and Shaggy perform their new songs “Morning Is Coming” and “Don’t Make Me Wait” followed by “Angel” and a loose “Boombastic” featuring improvised toasting and a bit of “Roxanne.” Joining them were guitarist Kameron Corvet and vocalists Melissa Muzique and Gene Noble, all of whom appear on the album. Check it out below.
44/876 is out now via A&M/Interscope/Cherrytree.