Album #473 – Signing Off

Album #473

UB40 are one of the most recognizable acts to come out of the 1980’s. Their reggae sounds created chart hits, all of which were covers. But, their first album, Signing Off, is very different. The band gets its name from the Unemployment form in the UK. The band had to sign off on their unemployment after this album was released, which is why the album was titled Signing Off. The cover conveniently displays the said form. There are a couple of covers on this album: Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit and Randy Newman’s I Think It’s Going to Rain Today. Both covers are unique and are well done. Half the album contains instrumentals, there are 5 in total. They demonstrate the amazing musicianship within the band which contains a cross section: East Indian, Black and White. The sound is much more raw and unpolished than their later work but, is also reminiscent of the reggae and ska that they grew up listening to. At the center are brothers Ali and Robin Campbell. The brothers formed the group in 1979 and applied the influences that were present when they were kids to their music. Ali sings lead vocals and has a distinct deep and reggae sound to his voice that makes anything UB40 has done, instantly identifiable. Lyrically, the songs are very political and touch on racism, Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy, Thatcherite politics, poverty and even African famine. The song Food for Thought was the first song to touch on this problem, almost four years before Geldof and Band-Aid did. The songs are all upbeat and catchy, with one even ripping off Van Morrison’s song Moondance but, on this album they clearly had something to say, just like their contemporaries in ska and reggae. UB40 would become huge three years later with the cover album, Labour of Love. It spawned their hit single of Neil Diamond’s Red Red Wine and the group became massive. But, sadly they would eventually split up. Ali Campbell would leave in 2008, with the keyboardist following him months later. A few months ago, toaster Astro also left. Now, there is a big battle between the departed and remaining members over the UB40 name. I am so glad I got to listen to this album because, I now respect UB40 and look at them as more than just a flash in the pan. They are all very talented musicians and this album proves that UB40, like the Specials, were writing their early songs about what they saw and how it should change. Other highlights include: Tyler, King, 12 Bar, Burden of Shame, 25%, Little by Little, Signing Off, Madame Medusa (one of the best anti-Thatcher songs ever written) and Reefer Madness. Overall, I give Signing Off, 5 out of 5.

Next: Kilimanjaro by The Teardrop Explodes

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