There are few groups whose popularity cuts across generations of music fans like UB40 and even with the split of the original group, the brand still endures around the world.
The release of a new album by the British reggae band, which now exists in two variations each retaining the UB40 name, is sure to excite the loyal fans who have developed a relationship with their music over the last four decades.
“Unprecedented” the new album from UB40 featuring Ali Campbell and Astro released worldwide on July 1, 2022, is an especially poignant collection of songs because it is the first since the death of Astro last year.
The percussionist/trumpeter and vocalist, whose official name was Terence Oswald Wilson, passed away in November 2011 at 64, just two weeks after the album’s final mix was completed. His death came three months after another founding member of UB40, Brian Travers died, following a battle with cancer
Astro is best remembered for his iconic toasting (reggae-style rap) in the band’s 1983 signature song: “Red Red Wine, You Make Me Feel So Fine/ You keep me rocking All of the time”
“Unprecedented” is the follow-up to the 2018 album “A Real Labour of Love” and it continues in the style of UB40, combining original songs and cover versions with the trademark vocals of Ali Campbell and lush instrumentation on every track. Campbell and Astro recorded the new album at studios in London and Jamaica, in between the lockdowns of the last two years.
Ali Campbell, 63, says releasing the album is a fitting tribute to his late partner and friend as ‘a way of keeping his memory alive’. Earlier in the year, he led the band on a tribute tour celebrating the life and career of the inspirational musician by playing UB40 favorites at several venues around the world.
The first single released from the new album “We’ll Never Find Another Love” is a catchy feel-good song whose groovy rhythm grabs your attention from the moment you press play and has already enjoyed heavy rotation on radio stations across the UK.
The group goes into familiar territory with an interpretation of the Bill Withers classic “Lean on Me” offered in two versions; the first, dedicated to charities of the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK; and a bonus upbeat collaboration with Jamaican dancehall star Bounty Killer
Ali and Astro put their spin on “Stay Another Day” the 1990s ballad by East 17, a cover of Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” and a buoyant reworking of Stevie Wonder’s protest song ‘Do Yourself A Favour”
In typical UB40 style, they dig into the Jamaican reggae repertoire with a version of “Sufferer” originally by the Kingstonians and “Heaven In Her Eyes” by Gappy Ranks. Campbell’s daughter Indica sings lead vocals on “Caught You In a Lie” a tongue-in-cheek song originally by Louisa Marks about a lover spurned by her cheating man who told her the woman she saw him kissing was a cousin.
Campbell and Astro also pay tribute to a contemporary reggae band by covering “What Have I Done” by the New York band The Frighteners.
There are five original songs on the album including “Happy Includes Everyone” “Mellow” “Well Never Find Another Love” and the title track “Unprecedented“ as the Astro takes on the British Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, labelling them “headless chickens”
Even with the split between the members of the original UB40 there is a special attachment across the world to the band that built a bridge between reggae and pop music by turning songs like “Red Red Wine”, “Cherry Oh Baby” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love” into timeless reggae anthems.
The band formed in 1978 in Birmingham, UK choosing their name from the form issued to unemployment benefits in the UK. They became global stars thanks to their trademark mix of English pop, American Motown, and Jamaican reggae, selling some 70 million records and producing a string of chart hits across the world.
Ali embarked on a solo career after leaving the band in 2008 citing business management disagreements. He was then reunited with Astro who left in 2013 and together they formed a breakaway group. UB40 featuring Ali Campbell and Astro released three albums (completed the fourth) and toured around the world before Astro’s passing last November.
The lyrics in the new song “Mellow” sum up the poignant emotions running through the album: “we all know that life’s too short and sadly time cannot be bought”