Monday, September 4, 2017


Reggae and ska ruled in England in the late '70's and early '80's, and much of the energy and interest came from the politics of the day. Bands such as Madness, The (English) Beat and UB40 sang about economic and racial realities in England, and that meant it didn't translate all that well to North America. It wasn't until UB40 made its easily digestible covers album Labour Of Love that English-Jamaican bands broke through, and then only with the help of Neil Diamond.

UB40 were a much more political band when they first arrived, plucked out of Birmingham by Chrissie Hynde and thrust into the spotlight opening for The Pretenders. Quickly charting with their debut album Signing Off in 1980, the next year's Present Arms made it all the way to #2 in the U.K albums list. It was full of cuts that referenced the reality for young people in Thatcher's England, included One In Ten, the unemployment rate, and Sardonicus, a jab at Ronald Reagan.

For this deluxe edition, the companion album Present Arms In Dub is included. Its instrumentals, edits and remixes also provided a hit album at the time, the first dub collection to enter the U.K. top 40. A third CD is an exciting live show from that year, along with four BBC Radio sessions.

Labour Of Love arrived in 1983 when the band was solidly stars in their homeland, enough that they could stretch a little, and try to reach a broader audience. The disc was a tribute to the reggae hits that had influenced them as young people in Birmingham. Tony Tribe's reggaefied version of Neil Diamond's Red Red Wine, originally released in 1969, was pretty much unknown until then, but it became a hit not once but twice in North America for UB40, the second time a number one. Other reggae classics such as Cherry Oh Baby, Johnny Too Bad and Many Rivers To Cross were being heard by their biggest audiences ever. It was a mixed blessing for the band, as the pop success led them more and more away from the edgier, political side, and they kept trying to return to that level of success, with other covers albums.

This deluxe edition includes a second disc of single versions and b-sides, mixes, dubs and a live cut. A third disc is another live concert when the album was fresh, with a concert that included much of the Labour Of Love album, plus a couple of BBC sessions.

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