Sting and Shaggy, The Roundhouse, review: (almost) every little boombastic thing they did was magic...
Somebody call the Police! With every sinew of my being, I expected this concert by Sting and Shaggy – the po-faced English multi-millionaire bass player and the cartoon-like Jamaican dancehall star, respectively – to be as enjoyable as hangover at a lute recital. It’ll be like one of those incongruous collaborations they put on at the Brit Awards in an effort to shoehorn all the nominees in, I thought. Nightmarish (and thankfully never realised) pairings of Mark Knopfler and Chaka Demus & Pliers, of Peter Gabriel and Peter Andre, ricocheted around my head. But how wrong I was. This “Staggy” night turned out to be a heartwarming and hugely entertaining celebration of music by two men who were clearly loving every curious moment.
What bonds the men is Jamaica. Reggae and ska formed the bedrock of The Police’s sound, and Shaggy’s chart-friendly pop about, well, shagging has become one of his country’s biggest musical exports. What started as a one-off collaboration between Sting and the self-styled Mr Lover-Lover in a Los Angeles studio in 2017 became an album called 44/876, named after the telephone calling codes for Britain and Jamaica.
The record went on to win the Grammy for best reggae album earlier this year (pity fellow nominees and reggae stalwarts Black Uhuru, who 35 albums into their career were pipped to the award by these arrivistes). It also caused something of a career flourish; 44/876 was Sting’s first UK top 10 album for 16 years and Shaggy’s first for 18 years.
This concert worked for three reasons. Firstly, it added some much-needed levity to Police songs, which I’ve always found straitjacketed by earnestness. Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic became the sun-kissed anthem it has always threatened to be. (The show also lent a touch – just a touch, mind – of musical heft to Shaggy songs). Secondly, it showcased two complementary voices: Sting’s dextrous and silky tenor worked surprisingly well with Shaggy’s throaty “toasting”. Englishman in New York became a celebration of immigration, with Shaggy changing the lyrics to become a “Jamaican in New York”, substituting the “walking cane” in Sting’s hand for “a spliff” (of course). Meanwhile Shaggy’s Oh Carolina segued neatly into Sting’s We’ll Be Together.
But the third reason it worked was because both performers seemed aware of how ridiculous the whole thing was. They played up to their differences. Sting, 67, wore “serious” figure-hugging black while Shaggy, 50, sported the works: a white stetson, billowing white shirt, shades and chunky jewellery.
They had sing-offs. At one point when Shaggy hip-thrusted his way across the stage, Sting retreated into the darkness in mock horror. In a recent interview, the bassist said he was reluctant to sing the line about “banging on the bathroom floor” in Shaggy’s It Wasn’t Me because “I’m Sting, for God’s sake”. But he did sing it, and the song started sounding like a morality tale rather than a song about nookie.
It didn’t always work. The mixture of The Police’s Roxanne with Shaggy’s Boombastic paired a song about prostitution with a song about a “fantastic lova”. Bit weird. And Sting’s painfully sincere and frankly awful Desert Rose was far too Womad for the night’s Notting Hill Carnival vibe. Even Shaggy looked flaggy at this point.
But, my goodness, it was fun. I was going to give this concert four stars because in the review world five stars are reserved for infinitely credible, genre-defining shows, but my ear-to-ear grin on the Tube journey home convinced me otherwise. Sometimes, it pays to let your guard down.
Just ask Sting.
(c) Daily Telegraph by James Hall
Sting and Shaggy review: A light-hearted experiment with some toe-curling moments...
And you thought Sting’s lute album was weird. How about collaborating with Shaggy, the mastermind behind hits such as Mr Boombastic and It Wasn’t Me?
Despite their disparate CVs, the Sting and Shaggy experiment has proven surprisingly the popular. Their joint album 44/876 – a reference to the international dialling codes for their respective homes of the UK and Jamaica – won the Grammy for ‘Best Reggae Album’ and the Roundhouse was packed for the London stop of their UK tour.
Opening number 44/876 saw the two men trade verses over breezy reggae backing, while Englishman in New York was changed by Shaggy to a “Jam-ai-can in New York”.
As one might expect, the Sting and Shaggy experience is not without its toe-curling moments. “The ghost of Bob Marley haunts me to this day,” sang Sting in his dodgy white patois. Perhaps more surprising, though, was how many of the songs worked. Latest single Gotta Get Back My Baby was a sumptuous slice of palm-fringed pop on which Sting’s keening voice and Shaggy’s earthy rapping combined brilliantly.
What’s more, Shaggy’s demonstrable silliness – at one point he was wearing a judge’s wig sentencing Sting to life in prison – makes him a good wingman for an artist who, left to his own devices, has a habit of disappearing up his own posterior.
Ultimately, few will be clamouring for a second Sting and Shaggy album or tour. However, as light-hearted experiments go, music’s odd couple hit all the right notes.
(c) Evening Standard by Rick Pearson