Can you understand what he’s saying half the time? No. When you do understand what he’s singing about, is he usually singing about women? Yes. Will he be remembered as a defining artist of our generation? No. Can he make some clever, danceable music? Yes.
On his new album Lucky Day, Shaggy might not meet the expectations of casual listeners who were expecting more upbeat novelty songs, like recent radio hits “It Wasn’t Me” and “Angel” from his multi-platinum 2000 record Hotshot. But what Shaggy sacrifices in the realm of catchiness he compensates for with an entertaining blend of reggae and hard R&B that proves his versatility as an artist. Although the album’s individual songs achieve varying levels of success within these genres, Lucky Day is generally able to distance itself from standard pop convention and forge its own identity.
It is surprising, however, that a hit-producing artist like Shaggy would make an album without an obvious standout single, as none of the tunes on Lucky Day aspire to the immense popularity enjoyed by the ubiquitous “It Wasn’t Me” and “Mr. Bombastic.” The record’s first single “Hey Sexy Lady” is innovative for a pop song, with its distinctive Spanish flair and swaggering horn melody, but sounds like something that should be played at a bullfight instead of a nightclub. While Shaggy should be commended for resisting pop cliches, it seems unlikely that any of Lucky Day will enjoy the same radio airplay as the hit-fest that was Hotshot. If so, it will be an impressive feat of promotion.
That’s not to say that Lucky Day does not feature good songs. While it is all too common in the music industry to follow up a success like Hotshot with a “safe” album, Shaggy instead emerges like an artist seeking R&B legitimacy. Shaggy sets an unexpectedly aggressive tone on the opening track “Shake Shake Shake,” a dark dance number whose intensity is maintained by Shaggy’s blistering vocal assault. The sexually-charged “Hookie Jookie” also produces a cryptic yet danceable atmosphere with its pounding beat, hypnotic synthesizer passages, and certain female “vocalizations.”
Shaggy also has decent success with lighter material on Lucky Day, as his melodic ballads help give the album needed balance. Ricardo “Rik Rok” Ducent, who co-wrote many of the album’s 15 tracks, provides beautifully seductive vocals on “These Are the Lips,” and fellow guest artist Prince Mydas adds plaintive textures to Shaggy’s explicit cautionary tale of urban life, “Lost.” Lucky Day also does not abandon Shaggy’s island roots: the forceful “Give Thanks” evokes the style of reggae legend Peter Tosh in its commanding vocal cadence and lyrical call for redemption and peace.
But while Shaggy surprises with his adaptability to various styles, Lucky Day also carries its share of mediocre baggage. For whatever reason, Shaggy gives the album’s two most accomplished guest artists complete duds to sing. “Full Control,” featuring vocals from Barrington Levy, meanders aimlessly except when it falls back on its obnoxious and overused chorus refrain. Soul diva Chaka Khan is likewise unable to salvage the languid “Get My Party On,” which borders on comatose despite its declaration, “We’re gonna party till the break of dawn.”
Despite its shortcomings, Shaggy’s Lucky Day more or less avoids the fate of disposable pop music in today’s music industry. While many view Shaggy’s MO as fun, upbeat pop, he is able to display a wider stylistic range within the genre. Lucky Day will not write a new chapter in music history, but it may have enough spark and innovation to win Shaggy a few new listeners while keeping his old fans satisfied.