It may be hard to fathom but UB40’s now ubiquitous brand of light reggae was an entirely different beast when they first began. Fuelled by political concerns (both in a local and global sense), UB40’s early career stayed true to its reggae roots but combined it with a British sense of ennui.
‘Tyler’ documents a wrongful imprisonment under the Amercian judicial system whilst ‘Burden Of Shame’ battles with racial identity and things barely get more upbeat after that. Even the singles wore darkness on their sleeves with only a version of Randy Newman’s ‘I Think It’s Going To Rain Today’ offering indications of a lengthy career in pop music (not to mention the first of a flurry of cover versions which would serve them well throughout their career). Elsewhere, ‘King’ matches an ear for melody with elegant subtlety. It’s hard to pick out a standout performer in the group but Ali Campbell sweetened the often bleak lyrics with his warmth of delivery.
Over seventy of minutes of sessions, B-sides and remixes are included as part of this anniversary package. Throughout, the sound quality is pin-sharp; further supporting the case that UB40 were a band in the true sense, where tight musicianship and a singular vision were the order of the day. Particular standouts include a haunting 12″ version of early single ‘The Earth Dies Screaming’ whilst even ‘I Think It’s Going To Rain Today’ sounds stark and lonely in its extended form.
‘Signing Off’ has aged very well, thanks to the crisp, uncomplicated arrangements. More importantly still, it reaffirms the importance of the band in terms of British and reggae-influenced music.