Even though the iconic singer Sting — front man of the Police — professes to not be a huge consumer of cannabis (“[I] rarely smoke it socially,” he has said), it’s hard to imagine he wasn’t totally blitzed out of his mind when he signed up for this bizarre and baffling collaboration with the Jamaican singer Shaggy (you know, it wasn’t him).
‘44/876,’ which takes its name from the two musicians’ respective area codes, is a compilation of half-baked reggae songs that, against the odds, also contains some pretty endearing moments. You’ve got to hand it to the folks at A&M/Interscope: it was a wise decision to release the album on 420 — people are going to need to be properly enhanced when they hear it.
As the legend (yeah, it’s definitely already a legend) goes, the collaboration can trace its roots to music business veteran Martin Kierszenbaum, who has worked with both Sting and Shaggy and played Yenta here, getting the two in a room together to write the songs that became ‘44/876.’ While Sting has released music regularly since his heyday as the sexiest stalker ever, Shaggy has largely remained out of the musical spotlight (although he did make headlines not too long ago for encouraging world powers to “bag some Jamaican weed and distribute it amongst Isis… I guarantee there won’t be any more wars out there”), and it’s hard to imagine he didn’t jump at the chance to get back in the game.
Absurdity abounds throughout ‘44/876,’ and it’s a shame that neither gents seems aware of that reality. (Unless, of course, the joke’s on us). The opening title track, for instance, is rife with blaring air horns, but they aren’t funny. Throughout the album, Sting employs a cartoonish Jamaican patois; frankly, I’m a bit surprised that, in 2018, he got away with it. Later, “Sad Trombone” employs a sad trombone, and also uses the titular phrase to describe a romantic partner, but for no discernable reason. “Waiting for the Break of Day” plays like a reggae outtake from “Spinal Tap.”
But hey, there’s some sunshine here, too. Lead single “Don’t Make Me Wait” is kind of endearing (its skeezy title aside). Perhaps in an effort to offset that questionable request, Shaggy opens his verse with a very gentlemanly observation: “It didn’t take me long to fall in love with your mind” (before ceding that “I don’t want to even mention the way your body perfectly designed”). Like much of the album, however, the tone is indisputably jubilant. “Wake up, it’s a beautiful day!” Shaggy exclaims on “Morning is Coming,” like a stoned take on the “Arthur” theme song. It’s a shame that they deliver the whole thing straight faced; it could really do with a wink. At least that way, we could laugh with them.
TELL US, do you have a special playlist to celebrate 420?