UB40
Albums

  • Signing Off
  • Present Arms
  • UB44
  • Labour Of Love








  • adriandenning.co.uk
    album reviews

    UB40

    signing off present arms ub44 labour of love

    Signing Off( 1980 )
    Tyler / King / 12 Bar / Burden of Shame / Adella / I Think It's Going To Rain Today / 25% / Food For Thought / Little By Little / Signing Off

    First things first. I have a reputation of 'hating' UB40. Many people do. UB40 become reggae pop karoke lite. They became the only way most ( white ) people heard reggae. You know, see that builder over there painting that sign? What's he listening to? Well, it's not King Tubby or Big Youth, is it? No, I think I hear the familiar strains of UB40. Every song the same, sounding fake, sounding very lightweight and wouldn't you just wish they would die? That's the reputation I have to uphold. It's something of a pleasant surprise therefore that 'Signing Off' is actually a good album. I know, I know. Shoot me if you will. I do have a long memory and hearing this stuff back in the early eighties, they were an ok band. 'Labour Of Love' changed everything for them, but i'm rambling. 'Labour Of Love' is another story and shall be told another time. For now, UB40 had a political agenda which comes across clearly here. It was Thatcher's Britain after all and there was economic chaos and riots in the streets. What changed that sadly wasn't UB40 but striking oil in the north sea ( economic chaos sorted ), that also eased the tensions in the streets and a good bit of invading the Falkland Islands made sure the country was feeling good about itself come 1983 and her re-election. I'm not a political commentator ( huge uptake in breathe from the audience! "Adrian, you're not??!" ) but these are my observations.

    This album has a pleasingly soft reggae feel but this is given a nice dub reggae makeover. So, there's echo where echo is meant to be. The bass lines are nice and heavy enough. They get the mix here right, not too lightweight, just relaxed and chilled and lazily groovy. Add in the political lyrical points and observations and yes, you have a noteworthy and enjoyable album. Do the songs tend to sound the same? Well, they do blend together at points, but it's nowhere near as bad as other UB40 albums. Oh, I must have a long memory because being re-acquainted with this album some 25 years after I last heard it and I still remember some of the tunes. Here's a quote for all you doubters by the way and the people who compile those John Peel compilations and think he only liked indie music. He championed a lot of bands in their formative stages. In the beginning, however, when they emerged on Bob Lamb?s local Graduate Records and they were championed by John Peel they mattered in an awfully BIG way, with smooth skank sounds, classy, distant vocals and a lovely dub reggae feel. Point, I hope made.

    'Food For Thought' is a tremendous song and of course, one of the ones I remember. I'm sure it must have been a hit song, too. It gives the best of two-tone a run for its money but in a more relaxed setting, but makes its point all the same. 'Burden Of Shame' is also a fine track, a dub feel using the melody from Van Morrison's 'Moondance'. It sounds really good and it's an addictive vibe. The closing tune 'Signing Off' ( there's 3 bonus tracks from an EP on most cd versions after this ) is upbeat and seemingly straight from Jamaica or the West Indies. It's an instrumental that proves these guys were great musicians and had imagination. So, in summary? Well, if your curious, this is a good place to start ( and end? we'll see! ) your UB40 adventures. Look, if you're in Virgin Megastores and want the new Klaxons album or whatever, buy this instead. Just live a little!

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    Present Arms 8 ( 1981 )
    Present Arms / Sardonicus / Don't Let It Pass You By / Wild Cat / One In Ten / Don't Slow Down / Silent Witness / Lamb's Bread

    The top ten hit 'One In Ten' was a comment on Thatcherism and the rocketing rates of unemployment within the UK that Thatcher's reign brought everyone. 'Lamb's Bread' and the CD bonus track 'Don't Walk On The Grass' are comments about the legalisation of cannibis. Other political comments come and go and the sound of the album is a slightly more polished take on the debut. We still have reverb but less dubby effects overall. The bass lines are still cool and very smart reggae bass lines. We have co-lead vocals on a few tracks, proper reggae dub vocals which are very very cool. It would only be a few years now until the emergence of the huge 'Labour Of Love' covers set which set UB40 on something of a downward path, but for now, we've all original compositions. Eight of them on the LP totally a pleasing thirty seven minutes or so. Interesting historical note: UB40 released a dub version of 'Present Arms' four months after the release of 'Present Arms', which also charted becoming the biggest selling dub album in the UK at that time. There's less variety on 'Present Arms' than 'Signing Off' which is a slight mark against it, but the album is short enough and with few enough tracks for this to become particularly irritating. The lyrics for the opening title track are a fairly straightforward comment on the idea of nationalism, signing for the army ( to stave off unemployment ) and being taught to kill people. These lyrics come with music straight from where the debut LP carried off. Trumpet lines, deep bass lines and a few touches of reverb. 'Don't Let It Pass You By' is the longest track here at nearly eight minutes. It also seems to be the one track that touches upon proper reggae whatever that is and dub effects the most. The second half of the tune is given over to a co-vocalist from the ranks of UB40 ( yes, not Ali Campbel! ) who spins a pleasing way with words. Apparently a Reggae toaster ( rapper ). Lee 'Scratch' Perry interestingly was the only reggae toaster who kept an actual toaster in the studio, impaled on a fence post.

    'One In Ten' is a cool song, especially the way 'number of a liiiiissssst' is sung. It's sexy and smooth. The entire album is without any glaring weakness, apart from the already mentioned sameness of the tracks and the lesser variety down from the debut LP. I especially like 'Silent Witness', the vocals almost seem incidental, the groove is there and the groove is enough. Same comments apply to 'Lamb's Bread' actually, more toasting goes on. Ah, toasting. There, you learn something new everyday. 'Lamb's Bread' is the one with the dubbier feel actually, so i'm picking 'Lamb's Bread' alongside 'One In Ten' and the title track as my picks from the LP. It's a cheap CD to pick up on the internet sites, so there's no excuse, really. Want a bit of fine reggae? Delve in.

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    UB44 7 ( 1982 )
    So Here I Am / I Won't Close My Eyes / Forget The Cost / Love Is All Is Alright / The Piper Calls The Tune / The Key / Don't Do The Crime / Folitician (Remix) / The Prisoner

    The second best song here is the opening song, a minor UK hit single alongside 'I Won't Close My Eyes' and 'Love Is All Is Alright'. As far as the album is concerned, this time out we seem to be heavy on the production effects, trying to re-enforce the bands love of reggae and dub in particular, as if it ever really needed re-enforcing. So, slow tempo tunes abound alongside the echo and strangely lethargic lead vocals. The songs don't appear to be about anything much, certainly not as much as the songs from the bands impressive first two long players. You could be forgiven for wondering what has gone wrong, but the answer to that is likely to be just mere fatigue. This was the bands fourth ( 3rd proper ) LP release after all, in as many years. A definite highlight does arrive though after the two singles which open the LP. 'Forget The Cost' tells the story of the millions apparently wasted on space exploration, going on to mention that poor is poor, rich is rich and never the twain shall meet. A delicious bass-lines underpins the song whilst the trumpets sail pleasingly over the top. A fairly strong opener to the LP then is concluded with the 3rd minor hit single of the set, 'Love Is All Is Alright', not in the same league as a 'One In Ten' of course, but pleasant nonetheless.

    The second half of 'UB44' has some frequently fascinating instrumental sequences. The songs do tend to flow together, which is bad in terms of looking for decent songwriting but good if you just want to ignore all of the vocals. I tend to focus purely on the bass line variations. It's a small thing and I happen to love bass lines. In truth, I would find it hard to say that the 2nd half of the album anywhere near matches the first. I would also have to say that the album runs out of steam, although the closing tune 'Prisoner' does have a little more about it than other tracks featured. Opening with a bass line that seems to be straight out of an early seventies soul LP, before progressing on with parping brass and then switching tack, bass wise. Incorporating soul with reggae and economic, effective vocals, it closes the 'UB44' on a pleasing note.

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    Labour Of Love 4 ( 1983 )
    Cherry Oh Baby / Keep On Moving / Please Don't Make Me Cry / Sweet Sensation / Johnny Too Bad / Red Red Wine / Guilty / She Caught The Train / Version Girl / Many Rivers To Cross

    UB40 release an album of cover versions, then. Cover Version albums are nearly all uniformly rubbish, we all know that. What's worrying here is how UB40 have lost their spirit amidst good intentions. Yes, they cover material of jamaican origin in addition to a Neil Diamond song, 'Red Red Wine'. UB40 enjoyed a lot of success 1983 right through to 1989, or so - largely thanks to this one commercial monster of an album. Ali Campbell sings all his vocals in a hideous whine and UB40 don't sound like they even have a guitar player - only the bass player emerges with his credibility intact, thanks to the prominent, dubby bass lines present on nearly every tune. It's an album with a concept, yet the concept isn't enough to overcome the suspicion 'Labour Of Love' is an album built on thin-air. Nothing happens at all in far too many tracks, they all start to blur into one another and hit song, 'Red Red Wine' has to be one of the most irritating songs in music, ever. I wait and wait with 'Labour Of Love' every time I rarely play it, for anything at all to happen. Well, i'm partial to the weird reggae/doo-wop hybrid that is 'Version Girl'. The next song ( well, only other song ) I can pick out is 'Keep On Moving', largely thanks to the deep sounding bass line. Both of these songs feature Ali Campbell's vocals to the back of the mix, so he manages not to be quite as irritating as he normally manages to be.

    Argh, the closing tune 'Many Rivers To Cross' is some hideous dance/ballad/reggae hybrid. Argh, 'Labour Of Love' is very early to mid-eighties, a time when a lot of albums were made with spaces in them, spaces in the music, basic instrumentation and blandess. UB40 came to personify blandess. God, 'Labour Of Love' even makes Simply Red look dangerous. Also, imagine a clock ticking down, except rather than time, as the minutes pass that i'm listening to this album the score is getting lower and lower and lower. It started out a tentative '6', now it's gone right down to a '4'. I can appreciate the musicianship naturally and also the fact these guys did genuinely love Reggae and kept it in the public eye. Yet, I just can't bring myself to love 'Labour Of Love', there's too little here that marks UB40 out as distinctive, other than the vocals, of course.

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    Readers Comments

    gazza, garyhess.44@hotmail.com
    I have to say adrian this cd is an excercise in greed pure and simple (depeche mode equally guilty) 2 volumes of greatest hits were brought out not that long ago ! And you are right about the new track its awful .

    Rulo rulo55_89@hotmail.com
    First of all, congrats' for the site & the reviews. These are the most objective & clear reviews I've ever read on the net. I agree with you in almost every quote dude. I just wanted to make a comment about 'Window'. OK, U2 has made infinitely better songs? of course... They could have done better with their '06 break and release more decent songs? oh yeah... but the song is beautiful, I know they played it safe again, but in a very very very gorgeous way don't u think?

    John County.Kildare
    *MIAAOOWWWWWW* Mind you, I can't resist enjoying a good bollocking of post 1981 UB40. Sad to think that they really could have been up there with bands like The Clash and The Jam, but instead threw it all away for a cheap and easy route to the top. Selling out has never been so monotonous, as Adrian said, even Simply Red have more going for them (or should it be HIM) than this. Reggae exclusively for 98FM* types. (*The instant coffee of Irish radio).

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    this page last updated 14/06/08



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