UB40 provoke mixed reactions. For some, their legacy of covering songs from the received reggae tradition as well as writing their own material has brought the music to a far wider audience than reggae previously enjoyed. For others, their style of reggae-lite verges on MOR drive-time background listening. Whatever assessment is offered, along the way they have released some tracks that deserve an honourable mention in any complete history of reggae. You might say: like what? Well, like the 12” version of ‘The Earth Dies Screaming’ with its powerful bass-led ‘version’ preceding rather than following the vocal track and enough reverb and echo to keep anyone happy. As well as its cheery lyrics of course. And the very early ‘King’ which uniquely managed to combine thoughtful reggae and even a dub into a 4 minute pop single.
So, here they are with the first new album release for three years, featuring Duncan Campbell as lead singer (he replaced brother Ali Campbell in 2008). Otherwise the membership is largely that of the original band, dating from 1978. The album is a combination of original songs and covers, the latter drawn, perhaps surprisingly, from country music, including George Jones’ ‘Getting Over The Storm’, Jim Reeves’ ‘He’ll Have To Go’, Willie Nelson’s ‘Blues Eyes Crying In The Rain’ and Vince Gill’s ‘If You Ever Have Forever In Mind’. “It’s not a country album, though.” states further brother Robin Campbell. “It’s a UB40 album. It’s a reggae album. We’ve just covered some country tunes.” It also includes the rather topical ‘How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?’ which most people will know from Ry Cooder’s 1970s reworking of a song from the Great Depression era.
The band are due to tour in the UK in September, coinciding with the album’s release. A limited edition version of the album is also advertised as available from here. “Limited to just 200 copies, the album will include a 12×12 poster signed by the band” according to their press release.