Review Summary: It wasn't me, it was Sting!
Yes, I know, it’s a strange one. Shaggy and Sting, standing side by side to work on the thankless task of healing the world and its problems with music. It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it – even if nobody asked for it. 44/876
, an album title which translates to the dialling codes of both Jamaica and the UK, – as well as being a unifiable metaphor for these two titans, and their ethnic origins, coming together (get it？) – tries to offer up a wealth of positivity using Shaggy’s reggae background and Sting’s pop credentials. This reggae/pop amalgam is the moulding tool for the good fight against today’s dark shadows; cast your worries to one side, you’re about to be taken on a journey of discovery with Mr. Lover Lover and Sting! Of course, the operative word here is “tries”. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing offensive here, this is probably the most inoffensive album of 2018, but I have mused over a few of the glaring problems with this project: the most obvious being its target audience; the second, pondering over what exactly the album is trying to accomplish. Not to take anything away from Sting and his eminent status, these two chaps are hardly on the firing lines for relevancy these days. So, pardon my brash assumption 44/876
isn’t trying to extend its hand in an attempt to relate to today’s youth. No, I’m going to run with this being a labour of love between the duo, doing what they want on their terms and having fun while doing it, and for that you have to commend them for their efforts.
However, this LP is far from a hobby side-project that’ll never see the light of day, it’s obviously good enough to be let out into the open and judged on its own merits. And truthfully the problems have nothing to do with this unlikely tag team coming together, you can tell they had fun writing tracks like “44/876”, the criticisms fall on the variously dated, contrived and forced sounds which are integrated in a cumbersome and hackneyed fashion. It’s the crystalized embodiment of the term “dad music”, there’s not a grain of contemporary influence to be found on this sprawling, antiquated peregrination. The key word for this record is: self-indulgence. 44/876
would have been at least palatable if the tracklist was cut in half: trim the fat, tighten up the hooks, handle the conflicting vocal dynamic with a little more care and this could have been a serviceable reggae album; the reality is a bloated product that feels jarred and slapped together.
The first complication falls onto the most important aspect for any record of this sort: the chemistry between its two frontmen. Sting and Shaggy’s connection fluctuates between hellishly awkward right up to embarrassing. The embarrassing portion comes from Sting’s end as he puts on this Jamaican-tinged accent for his performances to fit the chilled reggae aesthetic; this stands out like a sore thumb and thwarts any potential enjoyment, but worse, it feels horribly forced and does exponential damage to the songs the more you listen to them. The awkward part comes from when you hear the two bouncing off each other. The strongest moments on here happen when the two segregate themselves from one another: a song like “Love Changes Everything”, where Sting rides the track solo using a half-decent melody backed up by horns, bouncy upstroke guitar bops and soothing layers from the keyboard, turns into a noteworthy addition here; but when you come to a track like “Morning is Coming” it feels like bad satire than a homage to the genre as Sting croons ”morning is coming"
before Shaggy slams in with ”wake up, it’s a beautiful day”
. It’s like hearing a bad NU-metal band where the rapper takes over from the dodgy singer, and worse still, it wreaks havoc on the tonality of songs throughout 44/876
. While musically the album functions like ambient supermarket music does: it’s there, but you don’t pay a great deal of attention to it. The stylings of music fall into that many typecast clichés it’s hard to really appreciate what’s on offer here, but it’s largely a by the numbers reggae offering with a little rock and jazz being interspersed throughout. There is the odd moment where the music steps up a notch, like on the sombre “Waiting For The Break Of Day”: a track bathed in harmless dread, sleazy groove, jazzy piano licks and a crescendo built gospel choir to finish, but it’s a dull pick from an even duller batch of songs.
So, we come full circle to the question of demographic and who this is reaching out to, and frankly, I’d say it’s leaning toward a much older age bracket. There’s nothing here that will appeal to a younger audience, if you’re looking to get into reggae music it doesn’t need to be said you should be checking out the pioneers of the genre over this, but long-time fans of Sting or Shaggy may possibly find something redeemable here. For anyone else, the album is ultimately a boring, distended exercise that manages to tick every textbook trope associated with the genres it touches upon. If the LP wasn’t so long-winded and was condensed to maybe 10-track, this could have been a solid bit of fun and nod of respect to its peers, but as is, by the half way mark the fatigues are firmly set in place. It’s not a terrible album, it’s just a mundane drawl made by people who couldn’t give a damn what you thought.
SPECIAL EDITION: N/A