Let’s get this out of the way first and foremost- This album is as advertised. It’s Sting’s distinctive, smooth crooning voice and bass work paired with Shaggy’s “Boombastic” vocal style over reggae beats with island vibes. The vocal duties are pretty much a 50/50 split on almost every song, and they work surprisingly well together- Most of the time. So if that sounds like something you would be interested in hearing, read on.
When this project was announced, I, as I’m sure many people were, was confused. I later grew to be cautiously optimistic after listening to the first couple of singles. Having admittedly never heard much more of Shaggy then his 2000 hits “Angel,” and “It Wasn’t Me,” I wasn’t sure what to expect from his vocals. Once you consider Sting’s recurrent forays into world music with both The Police and his solo career, as well as his songwriting talent, it sets the mind at ease and the collaboration starts to make more sense. Stings vocals work well with the reggae vibes, and Shaggy fits comfortably into most songs while still maintaining his signature style.
Album opener “44/876” acts as a forward to the album, introducing 44/876 and its origins. The numbers come from the telephone island codes of the singers respective nations, 44 for Sting’s United Kingdom, 876 is Jamaica for Shaggy. The song acts as a recounting of the phone-call that led to the creation of the album. The Vocalists trade-off verses telling the story of how Sting called Shaggy from London because he wanted to spend some time in the Caribbean, Shaggy said come on down. A Guest verse from Shaggy’s fellow Jamaican Aidonia and background vocals from Morgan Heritage highlight the latter half of the track.
“Morning is Coming” is a smooth soulful reggae ballad focusing on the power of positivity, and one of the best tracks on the album. They switch gears right away and show their darker, heavier side. Mostly sung by Sting, “Waiting for the Break of Day” is an observance of our current political situation, a message of fighting back against a world that seems unjust and unfair and waiting for politicians to see the light. Sonically, these two tracks back to back feel like Day and Night. In “Just One Night” Sting and Shaggy offer their take on the “Carpenters and Kings” song from Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, with enjoyable results.
The Sting-led “22nd Street” and “Sad Trombone” venture almost into smooth Jazz territory, and similar to how Sting’s vocals sometimes feels a little of out of place on the reggae songs, Shaggy seems a little lost on these songs. Another track that doesn’t really work is the groups attempt at theatrics in “Crooked Tree.” Shaggy voices the judge and Sting portrays a man facing judgment in this back and forth.
“Dreaming in the U.S.A.,” is at the same time both a love letter to the United States and everything it stands for, as well as a political statement about immigration. They get their message across without sounding overly forward, and the upbeat nature of the song and the bells in the chorus make the song pretty damn catchy. The fact that Shaggy himself is a Veteran of the U. S. Marine Corps only makes me appreciate the message more. (Full disclosure, I am a Veteran myself.)
The duo is at their best when they keep things light and breezy, upbeat and up-tempo such as in “To Love and Be Loved.” A lot of the songs feature almost conversational vocals between the two, fleshing out two sides of a story. It is a well-executed concept and they play off each other well.
Overall, A very pleasant, mostly upbeat album that sounds perfect for future beach or backyard BBQ listening. They have love songs, they have upbeat positive reggae songs, they get political without sounding preachy and most importantly, they sound like they were having fun making positive music.