NEW YORK - You can hear the playful banter long before Sting and Shaggy enter the room.
There's a genuine chemistry between the two men that defies difference in age and musical styles, one that translates seamlessly into their collaborative effort, the new CD "44/876."
"The album is a conversation between two people from two different cultures, two different islands. One is kind of warm and tropical, and one that isn't — that's mine," said Sting. "And we talk about various issues, you know, various subject interests us both. It's not just love songs."
The title is a combo of the phone country codes for Sting's native England and Shaggy's Jamaica and they feel the songs strike the right balance for current times.
"We're singing about issues that we care about in a way that is not angry or polemic or aggressive. I think the world needs a smile at the moment because it is such a dark, febrile political times. You know, I think the world needs to just relax a little bit," said Sting.
Some of the songs dabble in politics, but it's the music that matters most to Sting. And that includes working with Shaggy.
"One of my greatest pleasures was to force him to sing," said Sting of Shaggy. "You know, he's obviously a singer, but actually singing in the way that we would define singing. Not rapping."
Shaggy chimes in: "Now he can't get me to stop."
"I've created a monster because he has a great voice and I'm taking full credit for that," Sting said.
In the early days of The Police, reggae was a big influence for Sting, so teaming up with Shaggy was a good fit. But Sting also relied on some other musicians he's worked with in the past, most notably Branford Marsalis who played on much of Sting's early solo work.
"It's nice to bring some DNA in from somewhere else and throw it in the petri dish that people will recognize and see what happens. Dominic Miller is on the album. Robbie Shakespeare came from Jamaica and played a couple of notes. He was just a presiding spirit. There were so many Jamaicans in the studio the whole time. I've no idea of most of them are doing, except they were creating vibe. They were there for support and vibe," Sting said.
Sting and Shaggy kick off the European leg of their tour June 19 in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.
Sting prides himself on being a bass player and, back in the era of his old band, The Police, the rocker would play the big bass with his trio.
But don't expect it for this tour.
"I don't think that would fit with the sound of this record," Sting said.
Then Shaggy tries to persuade him: "You could at least bring it out one time just to show off."
Sting responds: "Maybe I will teach you to play the standup bass and you will suffer."
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