English Beat were not the first of the Two-Tone groups--that honor goes to The Specials--but the Dave Wakeling-led band nurtured an eclectic style that broadened their appeal beyond the bounds of their peer bands from the early Eighties. In short order, then, The English Beat usurped the mantle of the movement.
Mixing the DIY independence and social awareness of the most astute punks, The English Beat (known as such to differentiate them from Paul Collins proto-popsters) were also able to incorporate an ambitious craftsmanship into their recording approach that highlighted the range of influences they sought to incorporate into their style.
The Complete Beat, a five-cd box set, illustrates the English Beat's progression by including remastered versions of their original studio albums (expanded with bonus tracks in the form of singles-only releases or cuts simply left off the American album titles), a separate CD of 12-inch and dub remixes (they knew their reggae roots more than just academically) as well as an entire CD of live performances.
There's also a single disc compilation available that offers a sharp sampling of the band's work. Keep The Beat may very well stand on its own terms as a legitimate album statement unto itself, also functioning as an irresistible tease to the more comprehensive package that includes a historically accurate yet affection essay by Andy Ogg and plenty of photos from the span of The English Beat's career. The Complete Beat furthermore suggests why the group, still alive and touring regularly, holds so much appeal to this day. And the band itself demonstrates an obvious pride in their work too by participating in the preparation of this excellent package.
I Just Can’t Stop It The definition of infectious, the debut album best represents the ska-punk symbiosis of the Two Tone movement. Displaying a more openly humorous take on topical issues of the times (and still relevant to today's celebrity-hounding in the form of "Mirror in the Bathroom), The English Beat possessed an impeccable rhythmic sense at the foundation of a lean instrumental sound. What most distinguished this band from their peers, however, was the contrasting vocal styles it offered: Wakeling's unassuming tenor delivered wry stoicism on a cut like the cover of Smokey Robinson and The Miracles' "Tears of a Clown; “ the Beat leader sounded like the mirror image of the expansive toasting of Ranking Roger, whose presence lent authenticity to the sound of The English Beat, reaffirming the deceptively insistent motion at the heart of their instrumental work, whether on the more rootsy likes of "Ranking Full Stop" or the sleek likes of “Hands Off She’s Mine.”.
Wha'Appen? The second English Beat album found Dave Wakeling and company digging more deeply into what, at the time of its release in 1981, was morphing into world music. Laden with touches of percussion without sacrificing a spacious overall sound, the grooves were deeper and more elastic on tracks like “TooNice to Talk To" (not on the original American release), while the recorded sound of the group, now a septet with the addition of the enigmatic Saxa on the horn, expanded proportionately to include dub effects and an all-around increase on polish. Yet this progression didn't come at the expense of the otherwise minimal approach to arranging and production: while there was no such direct homage to pop traditions here as on its predecessor (the aforementioned "Tears" as well as the at least partially ironic take on Martha & The Vandellas "Can’t Get Use to Losing You”), this approach nevertheless placed The English Beat squarely within an increasingly broad mainstream demographic for which the late Bob Marley was a figurehead.
Special Beat Service Compared to the enlightened attitude that permeated the sophomore album, its successor sounds comparatively plain indeed, at least through its first half-dozen tracks. The addictive nature within the pep of the debut and hypnotic depth of its follow-up--hitting early in "Doors of Your Heart"--reappears within a more conventional pop rock approach on the third album, most obvious in the straightforward rocking of "Sole Salvation."And the sly insinuation of "Save It for Later" suggests the change in approach had more to do with creative urge than creative stasis. The addition of extra tracks benefits this album more than the others by restating the Beat's roots: with "Col Entertainer" and "A Go Talk (Tappy Luppy Dub)" bookending an album that begins with the sleek likes of "I Confess," The English Beat ultimately sound no less motivated or motivating than on the previous records. The small touches that distinguish this box set, such as lyrics in the individual cd booklets, reflect the nuance with which the band worked: are the graphics of SBS not a subtle homage to The Beatles?
Bonus Beat Disc 1: 12” & Dub Versions Much more than some albums, a disc full of 12"-inch remixes and dub versions of The English Beat (or any artist judging by a similar item included in Bob Marley's hits collection Legend) is mood music to be sure, but of a wholly different (not-easy-listening) sort than that definition usually denotes. The studio technique of remixing effects is but one aspect to admire (compelling the thought such technique links directly with hip hop). There's also the flexibility and personality of the material: "Too Nice to Talk To," for instance, almost sounds like it was originally written for its looped and echo-drenched structure. Plus, it's only the catchiest and hook laden tunes that get these treatments, so it’s a unique delight to relocate those pleasure points from a different production angle that's little, if any less effective, than the original. Interestingly too, the last of the chronologically-ordered tracks feature horns on "Jeannette" and "I Confess" that suggest a means by which The English Beat might've evolved rather than dissolving shortly into sessions for their fourth album.
Bonus Beat Disc 2: Peel Sessions & Live in Boston Housed in the same jewel box, appropriately adorned with the stylized black/white/pink color scheme of Two-Tone, is a second CD, its sixty minutes-plus duration comprised of live performances taken from British radio sessions as well as a concert in Boston in 1982. As evidenced by even the earliest of these recordings, a John Peel session from 1979, The English Beat's collective instrumental precision was a corollary to their well-honed social acuity as expressed ever so directly, but politely, in "Stand Down Margaret." As lean lithe and lissome as the band sounded on studio records, the wiry strength they evince on these recordings is something else altogether. The edgy motion on something like "Monkey Murders" is all the more noticeable given the band's smooth ensemble work, reminiscent of The Wailers and other great reggae bands. The tinny concert recordings highlight how tight was the group's vocal work but given the age of the recordings too, the sound is remarkably full with dub-like effects comparable to remix disc, particularly crucial for the sound of band that relied so heavily on bass and drums. Would that there was more detail on these live recordings specifically on who was in the band on the later excerpts as personnel had begun to shift by that time, but that shortfall is minor in context of the box as a whole.