Sting And Shaggy Deliver Sunny Pop Reggae

Unlikely pairing of artists teams up for groovy collaboration album

Like probably most folks, initially, I was surprised when I learned a few months ago that Sting and Jamaican pop reggae fusion artist Shaggy had teamed up to record an album together. Then I thought if anything, the British artist has demonstrated plenty of versatility throughout his now 45-year-plus career. As early as during his days with The Police, this has included occasional reggae groove-influenced tunes, such as Roxanne and Walking On The Moon. While 44/876, which was released yesterday, is unlikely to become my favorite Sting album, after having listened to it a few times, I have to say there is something intriguing about it.

The album opens with the title track, a combination of the codes of each artist’s respective home country, the U.K. and Jamaica. In addition to Sting and Shaggy, who like on all other songs trade lines back and forth, the tune also features Jamaican artists Aidonia and reggae band Morgan Heritage. By the way, all tracks are credited to Sting, Shaggy and their backing musicians.

Next up: Morning Is Coming, one of catchiest tunes on the record. It was also released separately as a single on March 9. I think the voices of Sting and Shaggy match particularly well on this track, which has summer written all over it.

Don’t Make Me Wait is another lovely tune, which became the album’s lead single in January. Here is the official video. Check out that cool Gibson SG Sting is playing, though no Highway To Hell in there!

Just One Lifetime reminds us that we each only have one life to make a difference, so we should make it count: Just one lifetime/And there is only one/Yes there is only one/Just one life to live/Assuming that we’ll make it/We’ve no choice but to take it…It’s one of the few songs on the album, where political undertones come more to the forefront. The lyrics borrow from The Walrus and the Carpenter, a poem from 19th Century English novelist Lewis Carroll, which originally appeared in his novel Through The Looking Glass.

The final track I’d like to call out is Dreaming In The U.S.A., a tune I’m afraid could easily be misunderstood, similar to what happened in the ’80s with Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The U.S.A. While the lyrics praise America for its movies, music, stars and clothes, they don’t mean to endorse the country’s present situation – in fact, quite the opposite! During a recent interview with ABC Nightline, Sting said, “We’re both immigrants. He’s [Shaggy] from Jamaica, I’m from Britain. And we came here because we love this country, because we value what this country represents. We both feel that the things we value about America are under threat. So it’s really a love letter to the United States.”

So how did Sting and Shaggy meet? According to a Billboard story, it was Martin Kierszenbaum who brought them together about a year ago. Kierszenbaum is Sting’s manager and Shaggy’s former A&R. Despite their very different backgrounds and approaches to music, they clicked and decided to record their first single Don’t Make Me Wait. In January, Sting performed at Shaggy and Friends, a biennial fundraising concert supporting Kingston’s Bustamante Children’s Hospital – his first time to play in Jamaica. During the show, he and Shaggy unveiled their new single. From there, they decided to pursue a collaboration album.

“We just had a rapport,” Sting explained to Billboard. “I decided a joint venture was much more exciting than him just guesting.” Added Shaggy: “He’s brought me patience and intuitiveness. He’s taught me to dissect a record down to the last T…. I used to do three or four songs a day, just write them, boom, boom, boom and done… [but] this is more exciting.”

Sting & Shaggy

Perhaps not surprisingly, various initial reviews of the album I’ve seen are lukewarm. “44/876 contains much of the sizzle of classic reggae or dancehall, though a little more substance would’ve been welcome too,” concluded Rolling Stone. “While the world wasn’t exactly clamoring for this album to exist, the end product is more lucid than many likely expected,” wrote USA Today. “If anything, 44/876 is proof that both Shaggy and Sting can keep evolving into the later era of their careers, and maintaining a sense of humor about it in the process.” The Guardian opined, “The sound of two millionaires fretting non-specifically about the state of the world is pretty annoying, especially given their only solutions are Marley-ish bromides about peace and love.”

As I said at the outset, 44/876 isn’t my favorite Sting album. But it’s undeniable he and Shaggy have developed a good rapport, blending their different styles and voices in groovy pop reggae tunes. I think a review by The Associated Press got it right: “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.”

Sources: Wikipedia, ABC News, Billboard, Rolling Stone, USA Today, The Guardian, YouTube

My Playlist: Sting

Sting is an artist I’ve admired for a long time, both as a songwriter and a musician. The idea to put together a playlist of some of his songs came to me the other day when I was exchanging emails with a friend who is fond of Sting as well. BTW, he’s also a gifted vocalist and musician who does an outstanding job capturing the voice of Donald Fagen and on top also writes his own music. I’m sure I’ll have to say more about him when the time is right.

Back to Sting whose real name is Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner – I suppose it’s obvious why he adopted a different stage name! Sting was born on October 2, 1951 in Wallsend, a small town in northeastern England with a history of shipbuilding. This would later inspire The Last Ship, a Broadway show for which Sting wrote the music and the lyrics.

While Sting performed in various jazz bands on the side during his college years and while working as a teacher for a couple of years, his full-time professional music career didn’t start until January 1977, when he got together with drummer Stewart Copeland and guitarist Henry Padovani to form The Police. In August 1977, Padovani was replaced by Andy Summers who initially had joined the band as a second guitarist.

The Police
The Police during a show in The Netherlands in 1983. From left to right: Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers

The Police released their debut album Outlandos d’Amour in November 1978. They had financed the recording with £1,500 borrowed from Copeland’s brother Miles. While initially it performed poorly, the record ended up selling more than a million copies in the U.S. alone. The Police recorded four more albums before they disbanded in 1986. By that time, Sting had already released his first solo album The Dream of the Blue Turtles, which had appeared in June 1985.

As of November 2016, 11 additional solo studio records from Sting have appeared, apart from various live and compilation albums. A new record, which is a collaboration with Jamaican artist Orville Richard Burrell (known as Shaggy), is set to come out in April. Combining the solo albums with his Police recordings, Sting has sold over 200 million records, making him one of the most commercially successful music artists. Time for the playlist!

This compilation only focuses on Sting’s solo work. First up: Fortress Around Your Heart. Written by Sting, the tune is from The Dream of the Blue Turtles and became one of the album’s four hit singles. Here’s what appears to be a clip of the official video.

Fragile is one of most powerful Sting tunes Sting I know, in my opinion. It is from his second solo record …Nothing Like the Sun released in October 1987. According to Wikipedia, the song is a tribute to an American civil engineer, who was killed by anti-Communist para-military group the Contras in Nicaragua while working there on a hydroelectric project. Following is a clip of an emotional version Sting performed live on September 11, 2001 in Tuscany, Italy, to honor the victims of the terrorist attacks.

Another Sting gem is the title track from his third studio record Soul Cages, which appeared in January 1991, following the death of his father in the late ’80s. The lyrics of the concept album focus on Sting’s relationship with his dad and how he felt after his old man had passed. Soul Cages also appeared separately as the album’s third single in April 1991.

Ten Summoner’s Tales is perhaps Sting’s Aja album. The relaxed and more upbeat songs stand in stark contrast to the introspective predecessor. To me the highlight of Sting’s fourth solo record from March 1993 is Fields of Gold, a timeless ballad that is just beautiful. Below is a really cool clip. I seem to hear slight deviations here and there from the version that is on the album. There also appears to be slightly more echo. It doesn’t matter, it’s a terrific take captured a beautifully shot video.

Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot became the lead single from Mercury Falling, Sting’s fifth solo record from March 1996. Like most of his tunes, it was entirely written by Sting. The song was about a sick friend with HIV/AIDS. “The first time he went to the hospital I visited him and I was really at a loss to know what to bring him,” Sting told Unmask Us. “I’d just read a book by a Buddhist monk…The premise of the book is that dying is a process that we all need to be training for in that we’re all dying whether we have AIDS or not. I thought that would be a good book to bring him and he loved the book and got a lot of pleasure from it.”

Sting’s sixth solo album Brand New Day from September 1999 became particularly known for its second single Desert Rose, a collaboration with Algerian folk singer Cheb Mami, and the title track, which earned Sting his third Grammy Award for Best Male Vocal Pop Performance. I’m more intrigued by Fill Her Up, a unexpected tune with a country flair, featuring James Taylor on vocals and acoustic guitar.

In September 2003, Sting released Sacred Love, his seventh studio album. At that point, he had largely been gone from my radar screen. On this record Sting demonstrated he is not afraid to experiment and explore new terrain, such as R&B and dance-oriented music, and collaborating with hip-hop artist Mary J. Blige and sitar player Anoushka Shankar, the daughter of sitar maestro Ravi Shankar. While these collaborations demonstrate Sting’s versatility, I prefer This War, which has a nice rock flavor that’s more up my alley.

Starting with 2006’s Songs From The Labyrinth, which features lute music from English Renaissance composer John Dowland, through The Last Ship, the 2013 companion album to his musical with the same name, Sting had lost me completely. I was very encouraged when he released 57th & 9th, his first album in 13 years that is much closer to the Sting I’ve come to like. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised how rock-oriented this record is, which I previously reviewed here. Following is a clip of the opener and lead single I Can’t Stop Thinking About You, a rocker with a catchy melody, which is a bit reminiscent of The Police.

Last but not least, here is a clip of Don’t Make Me Wait, the lead single from Sting’s above mentioned upcoming collaboration album with Shaggy, which is titled 44/876. The Caribbean-influenced record shows yet another side of Sting’s versatility. “The most important thing to me in any kind of music is surprise,” Sting told Rolling Stone during a recent interview. “And everybody is surprised by this collaboration – by what they’re hearing. We’re surprising.”

Sources: Wikipedia, Unmask Us, Rolling Stone, You Tube