Dienstag, 3. April 2007

UB 40 Signing off ©1980

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So ubiquitous is UB40's grip on the pop-reggae market today, that it will be difficult for younger fans to comprehend just how their arrival shook up the British musical scene. They appeared just as Two Tone had peaked and was beginning its slide towards oblivion. Not that it mattered, few but the foolish would try to shoehorn the band into that suit. However, the group were no more comfortable within the UK reggae axis of Steel Pulse, Aswad and Matumbi, and not merely because you can't have four bands in an axis. Their rhythms may have been reggae based, their music Jamaican inspired, but UB40 had such an original take on the genre that all comparisons were moot. Even their attack on the singles chart was unusual, as they smacked three double A-sided singles into the Top Ten in swift succession. By rights, the second 45 should have acted as a taster for their album -- it didn't, coming several months too soon, while the third should have been a spin- off -- it wasn't, boasting two new songs entirely. Regardless, both sides of their debut single -- the roots rocking indictment of politicians refusal to relieve famine on "Food for Thought" and the dreamy tribute to Martin Luther "King" were included, as well as their phenomenal cover of Randy Newman's "I Think It's Going to Rain Today" off their second single. The new material was equally strong. The moody roots fired "Tyler," which kicks off the set, is a potent condemnation of the US judicial system, while it's stellar dub "25%" appears later in the set. The smoky Far Eastern flavored "Burden" explores the dual tugs of national pride and shame over Britain's oppressive past (and present). If that was a thoughtful number, "Little by Little" was a blatant call for class warfare. Of course, Ali Campbell never raised his voice, he didn't need to, his words were his sword, and the creamier and sweeter his delivery, the deeper they cut. Today, the group have moved far from their radical past, but there's no mistaking their militancy here. The music was just as revolutionary, their sound unlike anything else on either island. From deep dubs shot through with jazzy sax, to the bright and breezy instrumental "12 Bar" with its splendid loose groove, that is transmuted later in the set to the jazzier and smokier "Adella," "Food" slams into the dance clubs, "King" floats to the heavens. It's hard to believe this is the same UB40 that topped the UK charts with the likes of "Red Red Wine" and "I've Got You Babe"." Their fire was dampened quickly, but on Signing Off it blazed high. Still accessible to the pop market, but so edgy, that even those that are sure there's nothing about the group to admire will change their tune instantly. A timeless masterpiece.

01 Tyler
02 King
03 12 Bar
04 Burdon of shame
05 Adella
06 I think it's going to rain
07 25%
08 Foot for thought
09 Little by little
10 Signing off
11 Madam Medusa
12 Strange Fruit
13 Reefer Madness

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