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'44/876' review: Shaggy and Sting's unlikely, but sweet partnership

Sting & Shaggy’s “44/876” on A&M/Interscope Records

Sting & Shaggy’s “44/876” on A&M/Interscope Records Photo Credit: A&M/Interscope Records

STING & SHAGGY

“44/876”

BOTTOM LINE The unlikely rock-reggae odd couple find a surprisingly sweet middle ground.

The musical partnership between Sting and Shaggy seems weird, not because of their musical styles, but because of their personal ones.

Sting has cultivated an oh-so-serious rock persona for decades, both in The Police and out of it, while Shaggy, who splits his time between Jamaica and Valley Stream, has painted himself — in America, at least — as a reggae prankster. How would these two big personalities work together?

Well, judging from their “44/876” album (A&M/Interscope), Sting and Shaggy could probably have benefited from a bit more disagreement. On “44/876,” named for the country codes for Sting’s native United Kingdom and Shaggy’s native Jamaica, they often sound deferential when a stronger blend of their styles would have worked better.

Their collaboration is strongest when Sting buys into Shaggy’s reggae-pop vibe, like on the playful “To Love and Be Loved” of the Bob Marley-influenced “Morning Is Coming.” The first single “Don’t Make Me Wait” kickstarted the partnership when Shaggy’s former A&R rep Martin Kierszenbaum played the song for Sting, whom he now manages. It works well because it’s essentially a Shaggy song, with its catchy, lilting chorus and gentle reggae groove. On the other end, “Waiting for the Break of Day” sounds like it could have come from Sting’s “Ten Summoner’s Tales,” enhanced by Shaggy’s toasting. They create something new on “Dreaming in the USA,” a love letter to America that combines Motown with Police-like guitar riffs that shows how crafty Sting and Shaggy really can be.

Where they run into problems is when Sting gets a little too wrapped up in clever imagery. On “Sad Trombone,” he goes from one metaphor to the next, while Shaggy’s straightforward contribution only draws more attention to lines about being “the butter to my toast.”

Sting and Shaggy have found a special connection on “44/876,” one that could blossom into something bigger in time.

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