UB40 (featuring Ali, Astro & Mickey)
British Reggae Hits Stripped Back and Brought Up To Date.
UB40’s debut 1980 album Signing Off changed my life, literally. OK, I was aware of Reggae, well Pop-Reggae but the first time I heard Food For Thought, on the radio (John Peel Show, I presume) my head spun 360 degrees like the girl in the Exorcist. What was this strange magical music? The following day I was waiting outside Woolworths as it opened and bought the 45 RPM single, then wearing the grooves out over the next few weeks. Leap forward to the release of the ‘game changing’ debut album, and its iconic UB40 cover (a homage to the legendary slip the dole gave you when you finally found a job) and the roots of my love for all things Reggae were sown (the DUB album that came with the original release was another ‘head-spinner’).
UB40 have recorded a lot of music in the intervening 37 years, some good, some brilliant and some downright average……but when they are on form UB40 are as good as any band (Reggae or otherwise) in the world, as the accompanying Greatest Hits album will testify.
Does the world need another Best of UB40? Probably not; my local ASDA has three versions for sale; but this disc serves them very well reminding us how cool King, Cherry Oh Baby, Red Red Wine and Kingston Town were/are and King, the B-Side to that original single hasn’t aged a day and still makes your brain spin with its lyrical brilliance.
But, that is the past; UNPLUGGED is the present. UB40 have had their internal differences over the years and are now two completely separate entities, with original lead singer Ali Campbell alongside founder members (and the heartbeat) of the band Astro and Mickey Virtue forming their own band and releasing an album of new/original material in 2015; and during the promo at radio stations around the country the trio performed acoustic versions of the Hits and the format for this remarkable album took shape.
The album opens with the deconstructed Kingston Town and, while taking nothing away from the original now sounds as fresh as a daisy; which is true of all 16 tracks to be fair.
Still with a funky bassline, Red Red Wine follows and the harmonies are so deep you can wallow in them for hours, not just the 6 minutes here.
Over the last few days I’ve done a ‘compare and contrast’ with both albums (as you do) and before hand I’d never have thought UB40 would sounds dated; but a few original songs include a lot more synthesizer than I’d remembered; so hearing Many Rivers to Cross and (I Can’t Help) Falling in Love With You, among others more or less acoustic really brings out the lyrics and showcases Ali Campbell’s wonderful singing style.
There are a couple of inclusions that have left me shrugging my shoulders, Baby Come Back, featuring their friend Pato Banton is very alright, and their take on Prince’s Purple Rain could and should have been left in the studio.
But; there is more than enough here to keep me coming back for years to come with Homely Girl and Rat In Mi Kitchen sounding better than I’d remembered.
Then…..there….are the Classics. How do they fare in this setting? Well, the socio-political songs from the early 80’s Food For Thought, Tyler and One In Ten are both still thought provoking, lyrically sharp and sadly so relevant today in 2016.
Plus, with a back catalogue so big and far reaching there are a couple of surprises here too with That’s Supposed To Hurt and I Got You Babe (featuring Kaya Campbell) both sounding wonderful.
While the trio and their band want to concentrate on new music; this Unplugged album really shows what a legacy the band has left on British and indeed Reggae music and long may that continue.
Released November 19th 2016