UB40 Who You Fighting For

UB40 should get a medal, not only for reaching a quarter century, but for doing it with all eight original members intact. The apostles of British reggae’s 23rd album could be the product of none other than themselves: Ali Campbell’s distinctive sweet vocal cords, Brian Travers’ melodic horn interventions, the occasional smattering of patios toasting, and, most of all, economic arrangements defined by a heavy and no nonsense drum and bass have veered very little from 1980’s Signing Off sound. But somewhere along the line UB40 came dangerously close to permanently damaging reggae by reducing it to a novelty genre of quant island-ised covers ("Red Red Wine” anyone?). What Who You Fighting For almost is — almost mind you — is a return to politically charged original material. "War Poem” and "Plenty More” are searing commentaries on the Bush administration and the Iraq war, while the title track neatly lays out the cruel hierarchy of do-the-dirty-work soldiery versus arms length politicians. The message in "Bling Bling” should be fairly obvious and "Sins of the Father” sees Campbell offering up a solemn religious meditation. But "Gotta Tell Someone,” "One Woman Man” and "Reason” are throwaway puppy love tracks next to the social commentary and the covers don’t fair much better. "After Tonight” still has that Amazulu stamp all over it and the Manhattan’s "Kiss and Say Goodbye” falls into the what-were-they-thinking category. Let’s hope the next album ditches the fluff and sticks with the guts. (Virgin)