UB40 - Topic

Promises and Lies Play

Carried by the hit "Can't Help Falling in Love," Promises and Lies finishes UB40's transition from a reggae band to an adult-contemporary band that plays reggae-pop. Fans of the single will be satisfied by Promises and Lies, but older fans will find the whole affair rather dismaying. ~ All Music Guide, Rovi

Present Arms Play

The popular perception of UB40 as a band who cling to the coattails of true reggae artists is partially merited, given their '90s karaoke-quality interpretations of popular standards in a Jamaican rub-a-dub style. But with albums such as their debut and this, admittedly a more uneven effort, their affection for the music was self-evidently genuine and generally well observed. Their conscience-driven lyrics ("One in Ten" especially) are heartfelt and convincing, though Ali Campbell's Rastabrummyfarian voice takes some getting used to. ~ Alex Ogg, Rovi

Signing Off Play

So ubiquitous was UB40's grip on the pop-reggae market that it may have been difficult for younger fans to comprehend just how their arrival shook up the British musical scene. They appeared just as 2 Tone had peaked and was beginning its slide towards oblivion. Not that it mattered, as few would try to shoehorn the band into that suit. However, the group was no more comfortable within the U.K. reggae axis of Steel Pulse, Aswad, and Matumbi. Their rhythms may have been reggae-based, their music Jamaican-inspired, but UB40 had such an original take on the genre that all comparisons were moot. Even their attack on the singles chart was unusual, as they smacked three double-A-sided singles into the Top Ten in swift succession. By rights, the second 45 should have acted as a taster for their album (it didn't, coming several months too soon), while the third should have been a spinoff (it wasn't, boasting two new songs entirely). Regardless, both sides of their debut single -- the roots-rocking indictment of politicians' refusal to relieve famine on "Food for Thought" and the dreamy tribute to Martin Luther "King" -- were included, as well as their phenomenal cover of Randy Newman's "I Think It's Going to Rain Today" off their second single. The new material was equally strong. The moody roots-fired "Tyler," which kicks off the set, is a potent condemnation of the U.S. judicial system, while its stellar dub, "25%," appears later in the set. The smoky Far Eastern-flavored "Burden" explores the dual tugs of national pride and shame over Britain's oppressive past (and present). If that was a thoughtful number, "Little by Little" was a blatant call for class warfare. Of course, Ali Campbell never raised his voice -- he didn't need to. His words were his sword, and the creamier and sweeter his delivery, the deeper they cut. Their music was just as revolutionary, their sound unlike anything else on either island, from deep dubs shot through with jazzy sax to the bright and breezy instrumental "12 Bar," with its splendid loose groove transmuted later in the set to the jazzier and smokier "Adella." Meanwhile, "Food" slams into the dance clubs, and "King" floats to the heavens. It's hard to believe this is the same UB40 that later topped the U.K. charts with the likes of "Red Red Wine" and "I've Got You Babe." Their fire was dampened quickly, but on Signing Off it blazed high, still accessible to the pop market, but so edgy that even those who are sure there's nothing about the group to admire will change their tune instantly. ~ Jo-Ann Greene, Rovi

Presents the Dancehall Album Play

Shaking up their self-consciously mature pop-reggae formula, UB40 hired several of Jamaica's top vocalists to toast on UB40 Presents the Dancehall Album. It's as legit as any other dancehall albums, and in many ways, it's even more enjoyable, since this showcases a number of fine vocalists on one record. UB40 fades into the background, offering sympathetic, supple support for the toasters. The result is their most authentic reggae album in years, and possibly their best album of the '90s. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Labour of Love IV Play

This fourth volume of UB40’s all-covers Labour of Love series is the first since the departure of longtime lead singer Ali Campbell. Here, he is replaced by his older brother Duncan, a former professional spoon player -- yes, spoon player -- who slips easily into the role with a solid yet soft voice, akin to Ali’s but not a carbon copy. UB40 groove in unison as they always have, the production is that polished style they’ve favored for the past few decades, and the song selection is an equal mix of reggae and R&B classics that fans have come to expect from the series. For prime examples, check their version of “Get Along Without You Now” -- which owes a lot to the Melodians’ take on the tune -- or their woozy, almost mystical cover of John Holt’s “Man Next Door.” When bassist Earl Falconer takes over for “Tracks of My Tears,” the use of Auto-Tune is heavy enough that the version becomes a matter of taste, but everything else is handled with care and respect. Even if it won’t bring back fans who want their UB40 to sound revolutionary, this smooth and comfortable effort is certainly nothing to sneer at. ~ David Jeffries, Rovi

Labour of Love III Play

With Labour of Love III, the reggae-pop outfit tries to regain some of the glimmer of their former popularity with this third installment of their most successful album. They cover Neil Diamond's "Holly Holy" ("Hey, "'Red Red Wine'" was a mega-smash. Let's do Neil again!"). The rest of the disc is peppered with covers of skanking standards like Peter Tosh's "Legalize It" and Marley's "Soul Rebel." ~ Tim Sheridan, Rovi

Homegrown Play

After a series of disappointingly bland albums, Homegrown marks a slight return to form for UB40. While not as edgy and organic as longtime fans may have hoped, Homegrown has some great songs while avoiding the band's limp adult contemporary tendencies. Vocalist Ali Campbell sleepwalks through a couple love songs but the numerous political numbers find him coming alive and inspiring the band to push the groove a little harder. With dubby horns echoing and a lyrical and ominous warning to gun-carrying rappers, "Young Guns" is the kind of husky, slow groove that brings back the good old days. Ragamuffin vocalizing on "Freestyler" and a dub version of "Nothing Without You" are solid reggae moments, and the traditional "Sweet Chariot" (a track recorded for the Rugby World Cup featuring United Colours of Sound) makes for an excellent, uplifting closer. A little more energy and a little less filler and this could have been volume two of Rat in the Kitchen, but Homegrown at least points UB40 in the right direction while adding some worthwhile material to the band's repertoire. ~ David Jeffries, Rovi

Baggariddim Play

Baggariddim combines a thoroughly appealing three-song EP, highlighted by the catchy "Don't Break My Heart" and a duet with Chrissie Hynde on Sonny & Cher's "I Got You Babe," with dub mixes of cuts from Labour of Love and Geffery Morgan, which feature guest toasters on almost every song. The dubs are among the strongest the band have ever released, emphasizing their reggae roots, and the new material is melodic and engaging, making Baggariddim a strong follow-up to two of their finest albums. [Baggariddim was trimmed to the three originals and two dub mixes for its initial U.S. release, Little Baggariddim. In 1997, the full album was released in America for the first time.] ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Labour of Love Play

Named after the unemployment form in England, UB40 was never the most creative or talented group of musicians. However, what they lacked in talent they made up for with an uplifting spirit and genuine affection for reggae music. This is never more apparent than on their breakthrough album, Labour of Love, in which they cover the songs of their heroes. They try to recapture the spirit of early reggae by singing songs originally released before the international success of Bob Marley. They manage to inject their own exuberance into every song; for example, they transform Jimmy Cliff's mournful "Many Rivers to Cross" into an uplifting song of empowerment. The song for which UB40 will always be known is their first number one hit in the U.S., "Red Red Wine," a cover of Tony Tribe's full reggae makeover of a Neil Diamond tune that miraculously turned the group into an international sensation. Although UB40 relies on standard reggae arrangements, this is their most enjoyable album as a result of the inspired vocal performances and the genuine joy they have for the music. A must-own for reggae fans. ~ Vik Iyengar, Rovi

UB40 Play

UB40 was the first indication that the band was abandoning the political inclinations of their earlier work and concentrating solely on pop-reggae. Of course, pop informed all of their albums since Labour of Love, but on UB40, the group concentrates solely on the grooves, from the instrumental "Dance with the Devil" to a sultry cover of "Breakfast in Bed," featuring Chrissie Hynde on vocals. Even though the album and all of its mellow grooves are thoroughly enjoyable, it's hard not to long for something a little deeper, whether it's the tributes of Labour of Love or the edgy Rat in the Kitchen. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Rat in the Kitchen Play

In the U.K., UB40 were major stars, and this album was their sixth Top Ten hit, featuring the singles "Sing Your Own Song," "All I Want to Do," and "Rat in Mi Kitchen." In the U.S., the group remained a developing act with a modest following, but they were only able to score a hit by covering a previous hit like "I Got You, Babe." Rat in the Kitchen did nothing to change that, although it was, as usual, a tuneful collection of reggae. ~ William Ruhlmann, Rovi

Twentyfourseven Play

Remarkably holding together without a single lineup change ever since their debut in 1980, at the time of the release of this album in 2008, UB40 had suddenly lost two of their eight founding members. Singer Ali Campbell announced he was leaving in January and keyboardist Michael Virtue followed soon after. What exactly caused the split remained in dispute between the band and its ex-members, but there remains the fact that UB40 would now have to master this new situation. Coincidence or not, this album actually already gives various examples of what UB40 could sound like without their strikingly unique lead vocalist. Being the longest UB40 album ever (at 72 minutes length), it is nonetheless once again carried by Campbell's familiar style and sound. However, normal proceedings (as ever in a reggae style) are interrupted several times by a string of interspersed cover versions sung by guests (such as Maxi Preist and members of Arrested Development). Just as was the case with Ali Campbell's solo album Running Free (which was released in 2007 and was one reason that the band's album release was put back until half a year later), the choice of covers is rather run of the mill and even substandard, compared to the quality of the new originals on both of those albums. The covers might be good for listeners just wanting to "party on," but they can compete with the originals in neither elegance nor earnestness. The jarring thing is that this album finds UB40 returning to political themes much more decidedly than they had for quite some time, but the potential coherence of this album gets chopped up by the smattering of cover versions, as if coming from some entirely different compilation album of some sort. Still, on the plus side, there are new songs with strong hit potential, immediate appeal, and some sweet melodies. As for politics, even the cause of Gary "Tyler" (first sung about on the 1980 debut album) is revisited in "Rainbow Nation." Though not often so specific, topical conflicts such as those in Darfur and Gaza also get mentions in closing song "The Road." Now, however, UB40 have their own conflict to resolve, and 2009 brought with it the decision to install Duncan Campbell, a brother of Ali and Robin, as new lead singer, already featured on this album on a version of the evergreen "It's All in the Game." To possibly boost their commercial fortunes again (after having been a bit sadly overlooked by radio in recent years), the next step planned was to continue their very successful string of pure cover albums by making Labour of Love IV. ~ Alan Severa, Rovi

Labour of Love II Play

UB40 repeats their formula for even more success, with reggae versions of "Here I Am (Come and Take Me)" and "The Way You Do the Things You Do." ~ William Ruhlmann, Rovi

Who You Fighting For? Play

The positive steps taken by 2003's Homegrown pay off on Who You Fighting For?, the solidest album from UB40 in well over a decade. Once again, relaxed love songs, covers, and plaintive observations on the everyday struggle are the ingredients, but this time it's the latter that makes the album worth noting for the casual fan and treasuring for the faithful. The title track's disgust and despair over a welcoming, bouncy beat recalls how UB40 and the English Beat used to be neck and neck in the lively revolution race while "War Poem" and "Plenty More" are pleasingly more Signing Off than expected. Just like that pivotal album, Who You Fighting For? features an Eastern-influenced highlight, the hypnotic "Reasons" with Hunterz and the Dholl Blasters. With a fine, miniature cover of Lennon and McCartney's "I'll Be on My Way" and a perfect take on Dennis Bovell's slinky "After Tonight," it becomes obvious that Who You Fighting For? isn't so much a "return to form" but a blend that ties their pop period to the revolutionary early years while looking toward the future. They've attempted this plenty of times and came up with spotty full-lengths, crippled by bad choices and tracks that sounded forced. Inspired and sincere the whole way, Who You Fighting For? is top-shelf UB40. ~ David Jeffries, Rovi

The Best of UB40, Vol. 2 Play

The Best of UB40, Vol. 2 concentrates on the group's '90s recordings, when the band concentrated on pop-reggae crossovers instead of genuine reggae. There are a number of hits here -- including "Here I Am (Come and Take Me)," "Kingston Town," "The Way You Do the Things You Do," "Where Did I Go Wrong?," "Until My Dying Day," "Higher Ground" and "Can't Help Falling in Love" -- but fans of UB40's political edge and their genuine reggae roots won't find much of interest here. This is a collection for pop fans, not reggae fans, and in that sense, it is a good summation of the band's second decade indeed. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Greatest Hits Play

Taking the two volumes of The Best of UB40 and skillfully whittling them to the size of a single CD, Virgin's 2008 set Greatest Hits is unarguably truth in advertising, even if fans of the English reggae band will still tussle over whether or not the pop hits are pandering numbers well below the group's capabilities. The whole span of UB40's career is displayed in the first two tracks with the opening cover version of "(I Can't Help) Falling in Love with You" representing the ultra-slick, easy to swallow side of the band while "One in Ten" fights for the underdog with roots reggae attitude and dubby production. 'Course track three, the cover of Neil Diamond's "Red Red Wine," is the big divider as it crops up at weddings, frat houses, and every pool party held since the single's release in 1983. If you think it reggae's "Don't Worry Be Happy," you probably won't enjoy the take on "I Got You Babe" with Chrissie Hynde, or the band's squeaky clean version of "The Way You Do the Things You Do," but there are 21 tracks here so you can take whatever stance you want on the "sellout" issue and still be left with plenty of greatness. Whether you never heard it or just forgot about it, the inclusion of "If It Happens Again" is a horn-driven highlight, and even the sourest UB40 fan sports a smile when the high-stepping "Rat in Mi Kitchen" gets a spin. Then there's the great "Kingston Town," its wistful melody so beautiful Paris Hilton's people lifted it for her "Stars Are Blind" single. Unfortunately, the set stops at 2003 with the rugby anthem "Swing Low," and seeing how lead singer Ali Campbell left the band in 2008 this is just five years short of being the definitive word on UB40 Mach 1. A smaller complaint is the everyday artwork and not one picture of the band included, but otherwise this is the one-disc, nonjudgmental document of UB40 done right. ~ David Jeffries, Rovi

Labour of Love I, II & III: The Platinum Collection Play

For those UB40 fans who have to have everything, this triple-disc box replaces the Labour of Love albums individually -- or at least it is meant to. Virtually every single is here, and there's a load of B-sides, 12" mixes, and the best of the album cuts. Only the hardest of the hardcore followers of the band will be slapping down the cash for this, however, since Labour of Love is far too much of a good thing for the average or novice listener. ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi

Food for Thought Play

In terms of maintaining the promise with which they started life, UB40 were never going to live up to expectations, simply because those expectations were so high to begin with. Either the band would blaze with glorious defiance for a couple of years and then crash and burn like their early mentors, the Specials, or they would lighten up and smile a little, and set the stage for a career of untold riches. Of course they chose the latter path, but still there was a moment at the dawn of the day when UB40 were a genuinely exciting proposition, carving their way through a barbed and barbarous mix of political protest, social comment, and seething frustration. And that's the band that takes the stage here, a July 1981 performance for German TV's Rockpalast series that opens with the militant "Present Arms" and then romps on through "Tyler," "The Earth Dies Screaming," and "One in Ten." If anyone needed a snapshot of just how grim life was at the sticky end of early-'80s England, with Margaret Thatcher sinking her teeth into the rump of young and poor alike, UB40 painted it with brutal brushstrokes, and then set it to such an absurdly compulsively danceable soundtrack that it's no surprise how huge they eventually became. Still, Food for Thought is the well-titled reminder of just how powerful UB40 were at the outset, an 81-minute digest of their first two albums, presented with the electricity sparking and the boiler in overload. ~ Dave Thompson, Rovi
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