I am not going to sit here and pretend I expected this album to be good. For one thing, it is not as though I am the first to review this album since it came out a little while ago. However, I have carried with me a sense of curiosity about what it might be like. After all, Sting is actually an artist who has put out a lot of really good music through his career. Not even taking into account his run with the classic band, The Police, Sting has released albums like Dream of the Blue Turtles, …Nothing Like the Sun (my personal favorite), Ten Summoners Tales, and Brand New Day which have all been critically and commercially popular over the years (I also think If on a Winter’s Night… was unfairly maligned on release and fulfills its purpose better than it is given credit for, but that is just my opinion). Shaggy, on the other hand, is an artist I am much less familiar with, but has always come across as a fun-loving, kind of goofy artist that is easy to groove with if one is willing to give in. Hell, Boombastic is legitimately really good, and extremely entertaining. However, these highlights were all long past, and to my understanding neither Sting nor Shaggy have been at the top of their game for a while. As a result, I did not go into this album expecting something really good.
What I did hope for was to, at the very least, get a haphazard attempt at making a lighthearted, fun reggae album, where the two artists at least sound like they are trying to have a good time. Other than that, I thought maybe I would get a good laugh out of it, if nothing else–an unintended laugh, but a laugh nonetheless. But 44/876 is no laughing matter. This album is terrible, among the worst I believe I have ever heard. Yet it is not because of some sort of special reason, a reason that could poked at and made fun of. However, the real problem of 44/876 is simply that nothing on it works. It is not even an attempt at something good, fun, or anything else. I honestly was shocked by the end by how much the entire experience was just unexciting, bland, and cliched. Worst of all, the album tries to establish this idea of universality between the world of a guy from Britain and a guy from Jamaica, which is the reason for the album’s title (44 is Britain’s international phone code, while 876 is Jamaica’s). However, the opening track, the title track, is probably the most extreme example on the entire album where Sting and Shaggy sound completely incompatible. Shaggy’s rapping is supposed to evoke some feelings of casually hanging out, while Sting sings of being “haunted by the ghost of Bob Marley to this day.” Rather than the serious Sting and fun Shaggy bringing out the best in each other or balancing out in a great way, they neutralize each other.
While moments like this stand out, the album falters in most cases due to cliches and ridiculous platitudes taking center stage on many of the songs. For example, the song “Gotta Get My Baby Back” features a verse from Shaggy saying, “Lonely is taking over now and my heart’s kinda heavy so/I gotta get back my baby/I’m feeling kind of hopeless now, should have never messed around/You never know what you got ‘til the moment that you lose it/I gotta get back my baby.” This is not a cherry picked section; the whole song is like this. Then we have “Don’t Make Me Wait,” yet another song filled with cliches, and even comes across a little creepy with Sting’s no nonsense delivery and Shaggy sounding like he does not truly want to be there doing this. However, worst of all might just be “Dreamin’ in the U.S.A.” It is as though Sting and Shaggy thought they could make “God Bless the U.S.A.” or “This Land is My Land” by throwing as many empty sounding praises of America as they could and throwing in a bit of awkwardly delivered, out-of-place social commentary. Nothing else truly rises above the herd here.
What is disappointing though is that there are slight flickers of what might have been. “Sad Trombone” is a short vignette about a man who always finds himself alone, and briefly has a sojourn with a women until she leaves too. This might not be ground-breaking, compelling material, but the sound of the song is as close to true reggae as the album gets. It makes one wonder what Sting and Shaggy could have done if they had went in this direction with the album. It might not have been brilliant, but would possibly have been at least passable. Instead, what they ended up with is just boring. Sting is overly serious and tentative to deliver a fun or whimsical experience, and Shaggy is too fun and whimsical to make the socially conscious, serious songs make any dent at all.
Do not come here for good music. Do not come here for a one-off experience of Sting and Shaggy having fun. Do not come here for a laugh. This album has none of these to give.