UB40 ‘Getting Over The Storm’ – Universal/Virgin Records.
Aah, Birmingham. Synonymous with roads made of pasta, The Bull Ring shopping centre and, er, National Express, it’s probably not a place you’d associate with one of the most successful reggae acts in the world. Yet over the course of the last thirty years Brummie band UB40 have become just that. Catching their big break courtesy of Chrissie Hynde, who saw them in a pub in Birmingham during their formative years and asked them to support The Pretenders, UB40 have enjoyed a steady career for nearly three decades. However, in 2011 five of the founding members of the band had bankruptcy proceedings started against them as a result of debts accrued by the band’s own DEP International label. Former singer Ali Campbell, who left the band in 2008 to pursue a solo career, was also declared bankrupt. One has to wonder if ‘Getting Over The Storm’ together with some of the album’s lyrical content and choices of cover songs is a none too subtle reference to these woes.
‘Getting Over The Storm’ is the second album since Ali Campbell’s departure and the band’s eighteenth in total, following 2010’s ‘Labour Of Love IV’ (the fourth entry in the band’s long spanning series of cover albums), and it’s the sound of a band refreshed. Recorded live in the studio, it retains the exquisite production of previous releases. ‘GOTS’ carries on the band’s tradition of mixing original material with covers – in this case of classic country songs – however at this stage I will admit I know none of the covers featured!
The biggest difference on ‘Getting Over The Storm’ is new lead singer Duncan Campbell, replacing brother Ali following his career spanning tenure with the band. Duncan’s vocals don’t share Ali’s distinctive nasal quality, but this is not to say they are lacking in other areas. He still instils his vocals with the same innate sense of joy that Ali always did.
On to the album itself then, and it’s a promising start as ‘Midnight Rider’ fizzles and pops with joyous horns and easy going rhythms. Yep, this is a UB40 record. ‘Just What’s Killing Me’ takes the album to a slightly more maudlin place, with Duncan telling us “I don’t intend on doing much regretting, I just need to drink away the agony” amid a gentle rhythm and a lazy slide guitar, courtesy of guest musician Melvin Duffy who was given a carte blanche with his parts, as saxophonist Brian Travers explains: “We gave Melvin free reign to play whatever he liked, and he did an incredible job. He’s a hugely intuitive musician”. You only have to listen to the album’s title track, a blissful mix of positivity, reggae rhythms and slide guitar, for proof of this; from the off Duffy’s parts weave seamlessly with the rest of the band, providing colour and atmosphere and punctuating the lyrics perfectly.
‘Blue Billet Deux’ is UB40 doing heartbreak, and the first time I’ve heard a reference to text messaging in a song without being struck by nausea: “I still can’t believe you left without warning, told me in a text without even calling”. Musically, this one is a little busy – but the band pull it off in their own inimitable style.
‘If You Ever Have Forever,’’ Crying Time’ and the optimistically monikered ‘How Will I Get Through This’ are all standard UB40 fare, i.e. pleasing if somewhat forgettable reggae tunes. ‘He’ll Have To Go’ adds squelchy production and some more inspired slide guitar work to the mix, and holds your attention somewhat more successfully. ‘Blue Eyes Crying The Rain’ substitutes the usual horns for jaunty Hammond organ stabs and beautiful if slightly harrowing similies; “love is like a dying ember, only memories remain”.
‘I Did What I Did’ returns to UB40’s winning formula. ‘On The Other Hand’ however is a real surprise that would sound at home on the soundtrack of some overblown but heartwarming romantic comedy film (producers for Bridget Jones 3, take note) – ironic really, as it’s about cheating on your wife. A slow burning, deeply atmospheric number with textural, fingerpicked guitars (yes, one of which is Melvin Duffy’s handiwork!) this is probably the most country song on GOTS.
‘How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live’ is a none too subtle comment on the sky rocketing cost of living in the UK at the moment, and closer ‘I Didn’t Know’ is yet another paean to a departed lover. Both, of course, are standard issue reggae numbers.
‘Getting Over The Storm’ is absolutely one hundred per cent a UB40 album. If you’re a fan, either of the band, genre or both, then get yourself a copy – you won’t be disappointed. If however you’re indifferent, you will probably end up skipping through or switching off half way through. This is no detriment to UB40, more the limitations of the genre. Even punctuated by Melvin Duffy’s slide guitar and the occasional forays into experimentation, ‘Getting Over The Storm’ is still a repetitive record.
‘Getting Over The Storm’ is available on 2nd September through Universal/Virgin Records.
Huge thanks to Ellie Clarke at Prescription PR for providing this album for review.