Monday, December 16, 2013

My Amazon Reviews: UB40 "Greatest Hits"

...Goes to My Head
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Probably the most successful reggae band in the world (and at the very least in terms of American success), UB40 started life as a leftist political band and ultimately ended up a bizarrely successful cover band. Their name taken from the UK equivalent of an Unemployment form, this "Greatest Hits" collection does a real good job of making sure that you'll discover that the band was more than just their reggae-fied takes on 60's and 70's oldies.

Vocalist Ali Campbell had plenty of swagger and that helped to make the protest songs (like "One In Ten," a slap at Margaret Thatcher) convincing. He could also croons convincingly, as he does on "Please Don't Make Me Cry." The cover of the Gospel standard "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" presented Ali as a soulman, and the song became popular after being adopted by the 2003 English Rugby team. Ali and his brother Robin were formidable songwriters, and the bulk of the songs were full band efforts.

But it was the covers that made them stateside success, and they're all here. The breakthrough version of Neil Diamond's "Red Red Wine" is here, but in its single version (minus the toasting of member Terence "Astro" Wilson) and that holds my review from being 5 stars. (Also a minus, no real information/liner notes/photography other than songtitles and album credits.) The three "Labour Of Love" collections was where the bulk of the covers were taken, including the Temptations' "The Way You Do the Things You Do," Al Green's "Here I Am (Come and Take Me)." Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love," came from "Promises and Lies," and their version of Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe" (with Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders) came from "Baggariddim," but was one of the band's first US hits. They'd try that duet trick again with "Breakfast In Bed," to lesser results.

The band eventually fell into the trap of aiming at the cover version singles as their bread and butter, losing their edge as a band. But the singles across all the albums were always UB40's strong suit, and this "Greatest Hits" spotlights the band in their heyday (before Ali left). You can choose your speed...the ultra-poppish covers or the stinging reggae of "If It Happens Again" or "Kingston Town." Either way, you'll come out ahead.


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