Tuesday, 1 September 2009

1988 Aswad: Don't Turn Around

I'm feeling a certain sense of deja vu with this release. Like UB40 before them, Aswad started life as a hardcore roots reggae band with a fine line in observational lyrics that detailed the experience of Caribbean immigrants in the UK of the seventies, but their greatest success came in the eighties with a series of cover versions. 'Don't Turn Around' was another Albert Hammond/Diane Warren creation, originally found on a Tina Turner B side. In Turner's hands, it's exactly the sort of overwrought power ballad you'd expect from Warren, but Aswad shake it up with a bright and funky makeover that leans more toward pop than reggae.

And therein lies my main beef with this. Whatever you think of Warren's output, one thing it's always good for is to have the guts sung out of it in pantomime style. If it gets you on your knees with your clenched fists pounding the floor with every syllable then so much the better. 'Don't Turn Around' is a classic example off the peg angst she majored in, an 'I Will Survive' veneer of defiance in the face of a lover who no longer loves that in turn masks true feelings:

"Don't turn around

'Cause you're gonna see my heart breaking
Don't turn around
I don't want you seeing me cry"

Reggae struggles to do heartbreak at the best of times, but Brinsley Forde's incredibly upbeat vocal on this couldn't care less. More like a double bluff, it sounds like he's trying to convince his ex that he really is hurting inside when in truth he can't wait to see the back of her. It inadvertently adds a faux layer to the song that does not sit well with what is in actuality a direct message that's best handled straight. Though they hijacked Aswad's groove, even Ace Of Base were savvy enough to retain the heartbreak, albeit frozen beyond hypothermia, in their icy version.

Yes it's a hit, and a number one at that, but how fondly is it remembered now? 'Don't Turn Around' is too good natured to dislike, but very easy to be disappointed by. By being pound foolish, Aswad won the battle but lost the war with their credibility irrevocably tarnished amongst the fans who'd been there since day one. Going on to perform with Cliff Richard didn't help their cause either, but that, as ever, is another story.

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