The Gulf War veteran could have served up yet another jerk-spiced batch of reggae-pop nuggets on his sixth album. But Shaggy plays it less than safe on Lucky Day, delving deeper into the grinding rhythm of dance hall and putting his nimble-mouthed, froggy baritone up front.
Whereas Hotshot sometimes featured Shaggy as a bit player -- elevating the vocals of his Big Yard crew members such as Ricardo "RikRok" Ducent above the star's own, and sampling mainstream songs such as the Steve Miller Band's "The Joker" -- Lucky Day guns for a rawer brand of Top 40 dance hall. That's why songs like "Sexy Lady," the mariachi-fied first single, sizzle with an originality rarely heard on pop radio, thanks to trumpets, flamenco guitar and, that rarest of Top 40 treats, castanets.
Sometimes, though, Shaggy doesn't know if he wants to be a risqué dance hall don of slackness or jump on the positive reggae bandwagon. The inspirational, up-with-Shaggy anthem "We Are the Ones" and his apologia for all the booty talk on the "woman is the seed of creation" funk tune "Strength of a Woman" border on saccharine. Plus, soul queen Chaka Khan adds a sultry disco diva vocal on the chorus. But in one of his few musical missteps, Shaggy comes up short on "Get My Party On," a slinky G-funk tune on which his gangsta posing comes off more as backyard than big yard.
Judging from his plush surroundings seen on MTV's Cribs, Shaggy can afford to coast. But even though he's moved on up, the former grunt hasn't forgotten, or stopped loving, the music that got him into the lap of luxury. Someone ought to give Santana Shaggy's number. Carlos could use a reminder about the difference between putting your mouth where your money is versus banking on your strengths.