UB40: the forgotten 4th album

The self-explanatorily titled UB44 really marks the beginning of the second chapter of their career, not the end of the first.

On UB44, those socio-political – but usually not topically specific – lyrics are plentiful, and thankfully would remain so for a few (non-“laboured”) to come.  But there’s little of the strident anger that fired songs like “Burden of Shame”,  “Madam Medusa”, “One In Ten” or “Lambs Bread”  That anger, which was also just below the surface in a song like “Don’t Slow Down”, has given way to depression – the resigned, depressed tone is even present in a seemingly lightweight song like “So Here I Am”.   That the full horror of the Thatcher era had set in is detectable there, as well as the most message-orientated songs here, “I Won’t Close My Eyes”, “The Piper Calls The Tune”, “Love-Is-All Is All Right” (which might have influenced a similarly named Gene song?), and “Don’t Do The Crime” (which thankfully de[con]structs that familiar Daily-Mail-style proverb).

Ali’s lead vocals are delightful as always, and there’s an increased use of Brotherly harmonies on this album: a sign of things to come.  A couple of unusual musical details appear here: moments of noise-synthesizer, and a short-lived revival of the lead guitar.  And the aforementioned “So Here I Am” is a real rhythmic step forward – in fact it can boast the oddest polyrhythms in the UB40 catalogue (no wonder it wasn’t a big hit – there were no big hits from this album).  But the horns are disappointingly under-used.  Lyrics carry the day here, because they have to: not only is the music is lighter in tone, but so is the production.

UB40 were never truly cutting edge in the production department, but after the surprising success of “Present Arms In Dub” (not forgetting the more experimental tracks on the original “Present Arms”), one regrets the absence of any dark, heavy, trippy dub-wise productions here.  (Especially on Astro’s numbers – and he has two here: “The Key”, a commendable big-up to the then-ultra-modern chanters like Eek and Eastwood & Saint, and “Folitician” which suggests more than it actually says)

Worldwide mass popularity was still an album away – but this album marks the tentative beginning of “UB42: pop reggae (the good sort)”.

(Labour Of Love Part 2, of course, marks the beginning of “UB43: pop reggae (the really boring sort)”, in which even when they tried to return to relatively-hardcore reggae stylings and sociopolitical lyrics, the results were weak and watered-down).