Sting & Shaggy, "44/876" (A&M/Interscope Records)
The fact that Shaggy and Sting are teaming up on a CD does, admittedly, sound like a gimmick. Why are these two very different artists together? Because they happen to be known by a single name? Why not keep going and add Shakira, Sia, Slash and Seal?
Maybe one day, but put the snarkiness aside and enjoy this warm bromance between the Jamaican dancehall king and the cool, intellectual Englishman.
"44/876" — the title is a combo of the phone country codes for Sting's native England and Shaggy's Jamaica — makes sense as soon as you recall Sting's liberal use of reggae rhythms as part of The Police.
It turns out there's real chemistry between Shaggy, whose deep, thick cadences made "Boombastic" and "It Wasn't Me" such beloved hits, and Sting's flexible, honeyed voice.
The duo helped write every song on the 12-track album and their collaboration has triggered some interesting — some might say curious — songwriting, including lifted poetry from Lewis Carroll for "Just One Lifetime" and some role-playing (Shaggy portrays a judge and Sting a defendant on the innovative "Crooked Tree").
The first, title song smartly honours Bob Marley — Sting says Marley's ghost "haunts me to this day/ There's a spiritual truth in the words of his song" — as a way of inoculating everyone for this quirky offering. Then it's off to more trop-hop on this sunny Caribbean jaunt.
There's the pro-immigrant, Motown-inflected "Dreaming in the U.S.A." where Shaggy, a former U.S. Marine, notes he defended the nation. That adds weight to his statement: "I await the day when we will all inhabit a better America."
Sting, for his part, seems fed up with Britain: "The politics of this country are getting to me," he sings in one song. Then in the slinky standout "Waiting for the Break of Day," he hits again: "You see some politicians/ You hear the things they say/ You hear the falseness in their positions."
Branford Marsalis stops by to play sax and Robbie Shakespeare helps on bass. Sting's daughter, Eliot Sumner, gets a writing credit and sings on "Night Shift." Others featured on the CD are Eliot Sumner and Morgan Heritage.
You soon realize that Sting and Shaggy need each other, nowhere more so than on "22nd Street," which is like a rejected cut from "The Dream of the Blue Turtles" until Sting's delicate china shop is entered by Shaggy and his bearish voice.
The album's first single, "Don't Make Me Wait," a sway-inducing pop song with a reggae sheen, turns out to be only a taste of what these men can bring, their two vocal and musical styles melding into something as delicious as a plate of jerk chicken washed down with a cold beer.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits