A good 10 years before today’s dancehall mass market, Britain’s UB40 were mixing ska, dub, classic lover’s rock, and reggae into a pop-friendly formula. And the beauty of Promises and Lies, their 13th album — and their first in some time to feature new material — is that the multiracial octet from Birmingham didn’t have to stray an inch from their usual course to sound as relevant and catchy as ever. The soothing love songs are here, as well as joyous dance numbers like ”Reggae Music,” with its full, bubbly, melodic chorus. Lead singer Ali Campbell’s soulful croon continues to anchor the subtle ska beats, slow-grinding guitar grooves, majestic horns, and reggae ”riddims,” taking on the bittersweet quality for slower numbers that always makes UB40 ballads especially effective.
Although the group might get dissed for abandoning its more politically driven material of the early ’80s for chart-topping covers of sentimental love songs, including the current Sliver hit and Elvis classic ”Can’t Help Falling in Love” (this album’s equivalent of their earlier version of Neil Diamond’s ”Red Red Wine”), at least they revitalize these songs rather than just capitalizing on them. And musically UB40 certainly gets points for stick-with-it-ness, being perhaps the only band that’s maintained a long winning streak without having to alter its sound to accommodate the trends du jour. Sure, they try some snappy new production tricks on Promises, like house-style keyboards on ”Desert Sand” and full-blown orchestrations on ”Can’t Help Falling in Love,” but those kinds of enhancements only make the blend that much more infectious. A-
Promises and Lies