After fifteen-plus years operating as a close-knit unit, a member of UB40 branches out with a solo side project. We’ve all enjoyed the blend, now it’s time for the single malt: what game-changing statement will the collective’s vocalist make, now that he’s been afforded the opportunity to share his unique musical vision with the world?
Imagine my disappointment to find that Ali Campbell freed from the shackles of UB40 sounds like… Ali Campbell in UB40. Except exactly one eighth as good, and the pleasing mathematical symmetry of this fact in no way makes up for the listening ordeal I have just been subjected to. Ali commits all the crimes against music that UB40 get accused of:
– cover version
– Casio preset production
– overly sentimental
– yet somehow with all the feeling sucked out at the same time
– coffee table version of reggae that a real rude boy would run 100m in 9.76 seconds to get away from
– sung by Ali Campbell
I will defend UB40 against these charges until the cows come, but when it’s just Ali on his own, and when he turns in cobblers like this, a house full of cattle is not a price worth paying and I am firmly on the side of the prosecution.
Where did it all go wrong?
To start with, the choice of song is poor. When Jimmy Cliff wrote this in the early 70s, reggae songs tended to start fading out after two and a half minutes. It was fine in that context but when padded out to a length suitable for 90s radio it wears as thin as Birmingham’s claims that its canal system makes it the English Venice. I don’t buy the argument, either, that UB40 had used up all the decent reggae hits already. Labour of Love III came out a few years later and was the best Labour of Love yet, so I’m afraid this is simply Ali C being a div.
Secondly, the production is what detractors call UB40 by numbers. Normally I have no problem with UB40 by numbers, but here the numbers are all wrong. The tempo is too slow, there are the wrong number of UB40 members (1 instead of 8) and in particular the horns seem way off – where real-UB40 horns can be rousing (Present Arms) or joyful (Can’t Help Falling) or soothing (Bring Me Your Cup) or spooky (Food For Thought), these fake-UB40 horns trailblaze new territory deep into the lost continent of Annoying. Ali’s voice ends up having to carry the whole thing and, with the best will in the world and coming from a UB40 fan, in this case it’s not up to the job.
It’s as if Ali believed all the haters who were saying that what UB40 do is easy: take an old hit, press the UB40 button and storm the top ten. He’s tried to do exactly that and in doing so, proved that the nay-sayers are wrong and there’s actually a lot more to the Yowbs than appearances suggest. His band comes out of it well, then, but this is almost as huge a misstep for the man himself as the shirt he’s got on in the video.
Score: 3 out of 10.
This week’s entry is Ali Campbell going solo and covering the Jimmy Cliff classic ‘Let your yeah be yeah’, the title was taken from Matthew 5:37 and ranks number 2 on my list of songs that take their titles from bible verses, number one is ‘A bitch iz a bitch’ by NWA from Eazy 4:19. This song had been previously covered by The Pioneers in 1971, achieving a chart position of number 5 and therein lies my problem with the Ali C version. We start with a horn intro but I’m not sure it’s really neg horns as it sounds more like some incidental music from a seventies sit-com, probably a racist one and would be used when the token black character messes up, ‘you’ve done it again Chalky!’ *horn intro*. The beat kicks in and it’s a classic bit of yowbs production with an electronic piano, horns, standard bass and like a Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross radio show has the odd bit of sax thrown in for good measure.
Ali Campbell’s vocals are decent as ever, he’s not really pushing the boat out but it’s a professional performance. Overall it’s a bit of a plodder, the tempo is slower than the original or previous cover version, the vocals are fine but not groundbreaking, it’s almost like Ali’s got another tax bill to pay and has churned this out to make some dosh.
The lyrics are a warning to people to be truthful with Ali, a little hypocritical given his dealings with the HMRC, as he can now see through it all and has no trust in them whatsoever and basic ally he holds no truck with heir Walter Mitty like existence. I really wish my Dad had played this to me when I was a teenager, it would have saved numerous exchanges like this;
Dad comes into room, it stinks of smoke.
‘Have you been smoking Jamie?’
‘What’s that smell?’
‘What smell?’ – Desperately hoping the slightly open window combined with lynx and the stench of teenage sexual desperation will cover things.
‘The smell of smoke, cigarette smoke’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about’
Noticing there seems to be a fire under the bed he pulls out a mug with a still lit cigarette in there – ‘What’s this?’
‘Where has that come from?’ etc, etc. Painful.
The video seems to be based on a Stu-stu-studioline advert with Ali sitting in box designed by the same person who designs their packaging. It then cuts to an attractive blonde dressed in pvc, who looks like she’d be good fun for a night but don’t take it any further than that as she’ll have handcuffed to the radiator and be banging the postman in front of you whilst making derisive comments about your manhood and sexual prowess. Then we have one of those sliding picture puzzle games which annoyingly pop up on the ‘Nuts’ pub quiz picture round, it’s supposed to be a quiz game, not the ‘Crystal Maze’, fuck off. We cut to a wooden shelf covered in various trinkets which really reminds me of an album cover, I thought it was ‘Stanley Road’ but it’s not, so I’m deducting a point for annoyance factor.
We then have various people berking in and around the box, including the mental banshee doing her best ‘Robot Wars’ impression with a circular saw. Finally it becomes apparent why she’s a touch psychotic as she opens her mouth and reveals herself to be the daughter of Bond villain Jaws.
Score: Sorry Ali, this has been done better on two previous occasions and this version is a bit Butlins for me, so I score it 3/10
Hmm, Ali Campbell.
Initially when I saw this my heart sank and I grumbled a little under my breath at having to write another review about Ali or UB40. Then I snapped out of my funk, said to myself “How bad can it be?” So, I click away and start to “Let you yeah be yeah” unfold infront of me.
10 seconds in and I’m dizzy with all the colour and moving objects in the video. I persevere, watch on through squinted eyes trying desperately not to suffer an epileptic fit. I’ve been pretty harsh with Mr Campbell about his lack of creativity when it comes to his videos. I can only imagine what the production meeting were all about. So much for thinking outside the box, in fact, it appears that they though so far outside the box they ended up back inside the box. If you’re lost, I’m not surprised; I’m lost. Who exactly signed off on this? Who was the project manager? Someone had to watch this from start to finish and say, “Yep, that’s it guys, we nailed it. Well done.” Probably the same nonce that said all his other videos were quality. I dunno, it may be my anti-UB40/Ali side of me coming out again but I can’t help it.
The song starts off as most of his do, slow. Horns, Ali’s raspy vocals follow. Same sh!t, different song. This one never gets out of first gear, chugs along a woefully slow pace and has me bored to tears 30 seconds in. Music is supposed to be good for your soul, inspiring, energizing, uplifting et cetera. This is the opposite. My head is going to break if I have to listen to another verse by this guy. In fact as I’ve just spent the last half an hour listening to this the weather has changed with my mood. It was nice and sunny out, now it’s dark, cloudy and pissing down. Thanks Ali, you have not only ruined my ears with your monotone voice, you’ve hurt my eyes from that god awful video and to top it off you’ve ruined the weather as well. Great.
Score: In summary, poor effort, almost impossible to watch without feeling queasy. I can’t give this one more than 1/10. Time to step aside Ali.
I don’t seem to have learnt my lesson as I have not prepared well enough for the deadline again this week having only listened to the tune late last night. However to demonstrate my dedication to the cause and to my fellow neg elders I have made an intervention and am writing this review whilst I am in a meeting at work. So I have half of my mind on neg and the other half on the UK consumer buyer behaviours and patterns of feminine protection products. In that context somebody has just used the term ‘heavy flow’ which I am pretty sure won’t help me sleep tonight.
Let’s cut right to the chase here.
The song is pretty average, but the trademark Ali delivery goes a long way to make up for it and limit the damage. The tune seems to go round and round a little with poor development. However Ali sounds great and again shows us why the UBs were such a force through the 90’s. I also like the subtle and non over powering horn section in this, which is probably the best part of the production. Hold on! Somebody is just asking me a question about the additional manufacturing costs to make the wings bigger. I have no idea as I have not been listening for the last 5 minutes. I just said a quid a pad which nobody seems to have questioned. Looks like I got away with it, nice one, back to Neg.
The lyrics are pretty nursery rhymeish and I’m not entirely sure what he’s going on about? It seems as if he just needs his Mrs to talk straight to him, stop giving mixed messages and stop talking in riddles like Dungeon Master. Not sure he’s going to solve that never ending dilemma, but fair play to him for giving it try. Would have been nice if he had a follow up to this song outlining if he ever succeeded and if so exactly how. I am sure a few blokes out there could do with some similar help. The video does not initially seem like much however in hindsight I imagine was pretty breakthrough that leveraged nicely some new PC video editing software. It may have been the first of its kind to use the mixed perception of sizes and shapes of multicoloured cubes that clearly helped artists in the future, no one more so than Jamiroquai who if I remember correctly loved that sort of stuff.
Just listening to the summary and wrap up of the meeting and the quid I quoted seems to be the financial backbone of a new product launch to have a triple winged maxi pad delivering significant incremental sales!
The team are all basking in the glory of this plan and see it as the biggest thing since digital application, so much so that the guy at the other end of the conference table has a pad stuck to his forehead with the word WINNER scribed on it and the one next to me is leaning back in his chair smoking a tampon as if it were a mock cigar!
Further to this I also seem to be getting the credit for it. Look out folks this might be hitting shelves near you soon if my estimate was accurate. However I am pretty sure it wasn’t in which case I am going to have to find somebody else to blame the failure of the project on.
Marketing! Going to spend the rest of the day trying to blame Marketing, bastards only colour shit in all day anyway!
Score: 6/10 over and out till next week.
So Ali Campbell conforms to the egotistical traits espoused by many a lead singer. Leaving his brothers-in-arms with their proverbial dicks in their hands, he went off to make a pretty woeful solo album, with this mehdiocre cover of and old Jimmy Cliff tune one of the singles.
The production is SO UB40ish that it’s hard to see why Ali felt the need to do it. I mean, I wasn’t expecting lo-fi indie shoegazing, but I can’t imagine Astro, Robin and the boys were that impressed. It does have one redeeming feature; a beautiful sub-bass moog line that I wasn’t expecting. But that’s it.
The video has a nice, Brooklands College Graphics A-level feel to it. Jigsaws, sliding puzzles, printers tray, ripped paper lines, toy cars. I pretty much used all of these techniques in gaining my A-level ‘C’ grade around this time. Should have got a job making pop videos clearly.
Must have been something in the Pop legend water supply, because the video is VERY similar to Paul Weller’s Changingman released a few months earlier. But whereas Weller visually references 60s PopArt and Peter Blake, Ali Campbell has loftier ambitions by telegraphing Modernist pioneer Piet Mondrian.
And that people, shows you what happens if you fail the secondary subject in your combined honours degree and have to do History of Art for a year. Just glad it finally came in useful.
Score: 5 out of 10 (and 2 of those are for the video)
NEGGAE SCORE: 3.6