Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The English Beat

  • I Just Can't Stop It [Sire, 1980] A-
  • Wha'ppen? [Sire, 1981] A
  • Special Beat Service [I.R.S., 1982] A-
  • What Is Beat? [I.R.S., 1983] B+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

I Just Can't Stop It [Sire, 1980]
Known simply as the Beat in England, and rightly so--their ska is deep and driven. Thank drummer Everett Martin, born St. Kitt's 1951, with roots from reggae to Armatrading, and bassist David Steele, born Isle of Wight 1960, who's parlayed the usual classical training into a rhythm kid's twist and crawl. That's a title, of course, naming a bass line that moved more feet than anything Bernard Edwards came up with in 1980. Riding atop the full frontal velocity are two lean, warm, modest voices, almost indistinguishable until Ranking Roger turns up the accent. Hidden below it are songs, most of them by covocalist David Wakeling. Lyric of the electoral year: "Stand Down Margaret." A-

Wha'ppen? [Sire, 1981]
David Wakeling shows more character (and timbre) than Terry Hall, Ranking Roger could rub his dub in a pedigreed reggae band, and the rhythms aren't solely riddims. So as two-tone grays out, the Beat follow their chops into the world-beat sweepstakes, where snaky grooves are worth their weight in yen. The Afrobeats and studio spaces and steel drums are as seamlessly colloquial as the depression politics and depressed romances, so it would be a shame if its sinuous midtempos dismay fans of its predecessor's hectic pace. I hear not resignation or compromise but a stubborn, animated adaptability. Unity rocker: "Doors of Your Heart," in which love means eros and agape simultaneously, and Wakeling finds that dread blocks the way to both, and Roger advises him to stop his fighting. A

Special Beat Service [I.R.S., 1982]
Careerwise, a conservative move--never has their four-four come on plainer, and when David Wakeling claims it's harder to write about the personal than the political, you're right to figure the songs will prove it. But David Steele can't resist a slight skank, and Everett Martin, who's such a pro he'd do Ringo imitations if they asked him, is also such a pro he can make any groove move. Anyway, Wakeling is always thoughtful about the irrational fear and real danger of letting go. The troubled decency of his modern romance, spilling over now and then into a barely discernible self-disgust, is the exact left-liberal equivalent of his social concern, of use to the great audience as well as the seekers after young lust and high infidelity he's aiming at. A-

What Is Beat? [I.R.S., 1983]
With its remixes, live versions, and non-LP U.K. singles, this Jamaican farewell portends the consumer confusion of compilations to come. Strictly speaking, eight of its thirteen offerings are new to LP, but in general I prefer the original cuts (and sequencing), and I can't understand why the hot disco remix of "Twist and Crawl" was left out of the grab bag. Collectors might as well go for the cassette, which though it's slightly inferior audiowise does exploit the biz's sanest tactic to the noble campaign to scourge home taping by adding four tracks, two live and two U.K.-only, including the secret classic "Wrong Side of the Bed." B+