UB40 fans intrigued to see how former frontman Ali Campbell would fare since his acrimonious departure a year previously could be forgiven for thinking the Brummie vocalist was in the midst of a midlife crisis, judging by the guest appearance of grime artist Sway and a cover of a Britney Spears song on his third solo album, Flying High. But while its star-studded roll call may be more suited to pirate radio than the Radio 2-friendly guest list of predecessor Running Free (Mick Hucknall, Katie Melua), it isn't the radical departure its credits suggest. Indeed, only the rather shoehorned quickfire lyrical delivery of the aforementioned South London MC on "It's a Crime" would sound out of place on his previous outfit's back catalog, as Campbell wraps his distinctive nasal tones around 14 tracks that stick rigidly to his well-worn formula of lilting reggae and breezy ska-pop. Spears may be an unlikely choice of artist to interpret, but his melancholic take on Circus album track "Out from Under" proves that he's capable of creating the sounds of Kingston Town from the most unlikeliest of sources, an ability that he also showcases on the calypso-tinged Lady Saw-featuring rendition of the Hollies' Merseybeat classic "What You Gonna Do Bout It?," the playful brass-fused reworking of Tom Jones' Vegas' staple "She's a Lady" (with a little help from Shaggy), and the first song Elvis ever recorded, "My Happiness," which turns the '30s-penned romantic ballad into a chilled-out slice of lovers rock. But Flying High fails to live up to its title's promise on the seven original compositions, as the repetitive horn-led instrumental title track, the Bob Marley tribute "Don't Shoot the Messenger," and the plodding dub of "Everways," which fails to make full use of Craig David's soulful tones, coast along rather than soar, with only the rousing Lion King-esque tribal pop of "Visions," a collaboration with Danny K and the Soweto Gospel Choir, forming any lasting impact. Despite first impressions, Flying High indicates Campbell should have no problem taking the majority of his UB40 audience with him, but its business-as-usual approach means he's also unlikely to attract any new converts.
AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien