There are two UB40s: one of which (called UB40) still plays and tours with some of the members of the original band; and this UB40 ‘featuring Ali, Astro and Mickey’ which their website describes as ‘founding members of the original UB40’. Fans thus have two bands to follow, while those who dislike UB40’s brand of reggae can now disparage both bands equally.
This ‘unplugged’ release takes some familiar UB40 songs and gives them the semi-acoustic treatment. Some of the results of this are predictable but others are engaging including a fine version of ‘Baby Come Back’ with languid toasting from Pato Banton. ‘One in Ten’ is still a powerful song after all this time and there is a great take on Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’. An unplugged treatment of ‘I Got You Babe’ replaces the vocals originally sung by Chrissie Hynde with those of Ali’s daughter, Kaya Campbell. ‘Food for Thought’ is not up to the standard of the original – probably nothing could be – but it’s good to hear. The melodica sound on ‘Tyler’ is intriguing and it amounts to one of the strongest tracks here. Overall this album is certainly worth hearing by all those who can shake off preconceptions about UB40 and listen with an open mind. It is also a reminder that UB40 were stronger in writing their own committed songs than in performing covers of reggae classics even if they became more widely known for the latter.
The release also includes a CD of some of the original UB40’s greatest hits. This provides (with excellent sound quality) a tour of territory familiar to all those who know UB40’s music. With 20 tracks in all it’s a concise collection of the band’s chart history and there’s no denying the lasting impact and quality of very early songs like ‘King’ or the sympathetic covers of track such as ‘Kingston Town’. It is highly likely that fans already have most of these tracks so the purpose of this release isn’t really clear. While the selection of ‘greatest hits’ is always subjective there is a strong argument for re-releasing 80s’ classics like ‘Love is All is Alright’ or ‘The Earth Dies Screaming’ (ideally in 12” format) than (for instance) including ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ within any UB40 greatest hits collection – especially as they were original band compositions not covers. Anyway, post-UK referendum and post-US election, let’s hope some of the 80s themes of their songs are not becoming topical again.
See also review of UB40 reissues 21st February 2015
UB40 feat. Ali, Astro and Mickey: ‘Unplugged’ and ‘Greatest Hits’ two-CD release, 18th November on UMC