Wednesday, 19 June 2019

UB40 - Guns In The Ghetto (1997)

Oracabessa moonshine....


Released on 1 July 1997

Running time 38:36

It had been four years since UB40's most successful album, 1993's Promises And Lies, but this offering didn't really register much at all. Most hints of politicised lyrics had disappeared and also the group seemed to have almost lost the knack for a hit tune, something that certainly was not the case on the previous album. It is all very polished, digitised pop reggae, with programmed drums replacing "proper" drums and the skanking is nowhere near as pronounced. Yes there is a reggae beat, but it is largely keyboard-driven. For me, this is where UB40 really started to hit a rut, reggae authenticism giving way to contemporary rhythmic beats. Furthermore, the sound suffers from the "loudness" prevalent at the time and I have to turn down the bass settings on my sub-woofer specifically for this album, otherwise it shakes the whole house.


1. Always There
2. Hurry Come Up
3. I Love It When You Smile
4. I've Been Missing You
5. Oracabessa Moonshine
6. Guns in The Ghetto
7. Tell Me Is It True
8. Friendly Fire
9. I Really Can't Say
10. Lisa                                                                

Always There is a pleasant enough opener, with some nice bass parts, Ali Campbell's vocals are as nasally sleepy as ever. Hurry Come Up is a shuffling groove, with a decidedly digital backing. Some nice brass near the end. I Love It When You Smile has a laid-back, gentle feeling, with some good saxophone in parts. Again, Ali Campbell's voice is getting more somnolent by the minute. I've Been Missing You comes and goes without really registering either one way or another.

Oracabessa Moonshine is a swoony, jazzy number with a nice atmosphere and melodic vocal about jacaranda trees and bathing in the sea. Very suitable for a hot summer's day. It is a bit Third World-ish. Guns in The Ghetto is the one track on the album that really makes you sit up  and say "yes! That's what I expect from UB40". Campbell's voice is as you would expect - sad and quietly expressive. It has more of a reggae groove, some subtle brass and a heartbreaking lyric about gun violence. It is probably the mark of a special band that, even at their most underwhelming, they can still come up with a classic.

Tell Me Is It True finds the group bravely diversifying somewhat with acoustic guitars and a jaunty jazzy vocal. Friendly Fire has a lively rhythm to it and lyrics that you might think were militarily inspired/political but actually is about a relationship going wrong. I Really Can't Say is a catchy enough tune. Lisa is another perfectly inoffensive track. Look, there isn't a bad track on this album, but apart from the title track, there just isn't one that sticks in the memory for long.


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