Picks and Pans Review: Ub40

updated 09/26/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/26/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

UB40

If Chrissie Hynde, the siren of the Pretenders, likes you, your band must be pretty good. After all, she dallied with Ray Davies, whose Kinks are one of rock's treasures. She's long been a partisan of UB40, this marvelous multiracial reggae band from Birmingham, England. Then again, she married Jim Kerr of Simple Minds. Well, two out of three still makes for a fine batting average in any league. It's twice as good as Wade Boggs's, and Chrissie's got as least as many groupies distracting her. Anyway, Hynde's lobbying for UB40 extends to providing vocal tracks to their albums. Her duet here, Breakfast in Bed, doesn't compare to the last one, a felicitous cover of Sonny and Cher's I Got You Babe on UB40's Little Baggariddim EP. Yet Breakfast in Bed is one of the best songs on this album, which is worthwhile even if it isn't the group's best effort. It begins with Dance with the Devil, an instrumental that drones on without developing beyond its primary groove. That lack of inventiveness hangs over the entire album. What makes UB40 fun anytime, however, is its hybrid musical nature. Though the rhythmic impulses are always authentic reggae, the melodies and vocals take in a number of influences. I Would Do It for You owes as much to a Highlands dirge as it does to a Kingston shuffle. The band, especially on recent albums, also makes the best use of horns this side of Tower of Power. And Ali Campbell has a truly seductive voice, as pungent and catchy as pine tar. Call UB40 enjoyable, if uninspired. And because the band never seems to be hitting on more than half its cylinders, maybe the record should be informally entitled UB20. (A&M)

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