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Sting and Shaggy - 44/876 (Album Review)

Friday, 27 April 2018 Written by Ben Gallivan

Photo: Salvador Ochoa

Sting and Shaggy. Sting. And Shaggy. Sting. And Shaggy. Sting and Shaggy. Let that sink in for a minute.

Let’s just say one thing before we get down to the nitty gritty: '44/876' is a very mediocre record. It’s adequate, and by no means terrible. It’s breaking zero new ground, yet if any of its songs popped up on the radio you wouldn’t find it offensive enough to switch stations. Fine, maybe one or two of them, but overall…it’s actually OK.

Sadly, though, the fact that it is so vanilla is both its saving grace and worst attribute. Once you get past the initial shock of the title track (if anyone hadn’t guessed that it represents the dialling codes for the UK and Jamaica, there’s a handy but horrible phone noise gracing the chorus to help you along) the rest of the fare is pleasant enough.

Imagine yourself hosting a summer BBQ. You’ve bought this record to check if Sting has finally lost his marbles, but now you actually quite like it. You don’t want to inflict it on anyone until at least three bottles of lager have been consumed by each of the guests, in case you get rumbled. You test the water and put it on. Heads nod, feet tap...and then everyone just carries on chatting and eating as if nothing had ever happened.

But back to the title track for just a moment. If it had been hidden away somewhere towards the album’s midsection, it’s likely that it would quickly be forgotten. But there it is, shining bright in pole position. Sting’s vocals are getting a little strained now, which is perhaps why he’s opted for a watered-down reggae album rather than a straight rock record like 2016's '57th & 9th', and its lyrics are unforgivable. “I hear reggae music, it carries me away,” Sting sings. “And the ghost of Bob Marley, that haunts me to this day.”

Gotta Get Back My Baby and Just One Lifetime, meanwhile, have the potential to be really catchy, but there’s something about the instrumentation that isn’t quite right. We want to imagine a sunny backyard full of musicians, but the tinny production and synthetic beats conjure up a group of people listlessly sitting around a studio, occasionally lifting a finger to press play on their keyboard’s reggae demo button.

‘44/876’ echoes the sort of reggae that UB40 started churning out after ‘Signing Off’ and ‘Present Arms’, but with added novelty factor given the players involved. It could have been a whole lot better than this, but Christ it could have been a hell of a lot worse.

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