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The Complete Beat

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  • Posted July 10, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    This Beat Still Goes On

    When the British ska movement took hold in the late 1970's, it produced some very good bands: The Specials, The Selector, Madness, some of which are still with us. However, The English Beat were clearly the most talented and promising of those bands. This interracial band from the wilds of Birmingham mixed crucial reggae with speedy punk urgency while also playing breezy pop songs. They were also very political; when they released their first album in 1980, England was facing some of its worst social turmoil in its history, resulting in race riots. In the midst of this, The English Beat put the blame squarely on Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the fiery "Stand Down, Margaret".

    Now, Shout Factory has re-released all of The English Beat's albums on "Complete Beat". Their first album, "I Just Can't Stop It" remains a superior, kinetic debut. This is the album that features "Stand Down, Margaret". But it also features the hilariously mental "Mirror In The Bathroom" as well as brilliant covers of Smokey Robinson's "Tears Of A Clown" and Dave Wakeling's surprisingly perfect rendition of Andy Williams' "Can't Get Used To Losing You". Yet, it's Ranking Roger's furious toasting-cum- scatting on "Rough Rider" and "Jackpot" that makes this a cut above the usual party album.

    Their next album, "Wha'Appen?" is a bit weaker because the group seemed to be going in a more pop direction. Although their last album, "Special Beat Service" is much better, focusing on love songs ("I Confess" and "Save It For Later") in addition to social messages ("Sugar And Stress"). There are two additional discs here, one featuring unnecessary remixes of their songs and another featuring a terrific 1982 concert recorded in Boston, one year before they disbanded.

    Since then, Ranking Roger and Dave Wakeling formed General Public, which tried (but didn't always succeed) in recapturing the reggae-pop sensibilities of The English Beat. Two other members, Andy Cox and Dave Steele, formed the extremely successful Fine Young Cannibals but that group only lasted two albums. Ranking Roger has his own version of The Beat whereas Dave Wakeling has an American version of the band. It's a shame that neither of these bands have Saxa in the fold anymore; he was 60 years old when he recorded their first album and his energetic sax bursts helped draw the listener into their remarkably jubiliant sound. In the meantime, this boxed set will do just nicely.

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