One of the best things you can do as a fan of any art is to go into something with no real expectations and find something you think is wonderful. That explains my relationship with The English Beat. The band played their first show in 1979 and were part of the two-tone movement in the early 80s, but I didn’t hop on board until I saw the band last year. They were on the Retro Futura Tour, which also featured Paul Young, Katrina Leskanich from Katrina and the Waves, Modern English, Men Without Hats, and Howard Jones.
I had a vague notion of a couple of songs, but I didn’t know the band’s history, how it broke off into General Public and Fine Young Cannibals, or how many hits they’d had. “Mirror In the Bathroom,” “Save It For Later,” “Too Nice To Talk To,” “Hands Off She’s Mine.” After that, Wakeling and Ranking Roger split off into General Public and added “Tenderness” and “I’ll Take You There” to the pile of hits. But all I knew coming out of the auditorium that night was that The English Beat put on a hell of a show, even with a shortened set. I was hooked. This year, the band has a new album out, and since they tour frequently, I was able to catch up with them again at the Sinclair in Cambridge, just across the river from Boston.
The new album, Here We Go Love!, is the first English Beat studio album since 1982’s Special Beat Service. It has some of the same qualities as the original three albums – an upbeat sound that sprinkles in a variety of world music influences with a pop/rock center, frequently anchored by lyrics with a heavy or knotty subject matter. Wakeling says in some ways the record sounds like what the band might have sounded like as the Beat morphed into General Public after the split in ’82. I spoke with him backstage at the Sinclair while the rest of the band did their soundcheck, and there’s a great moment toward the end where Wakeling is talking about some of the weightier lyrics while the band is pumping out some of the happiest, foot-moving music you’ll ever hear.
Wakeling was a delightful conversationalist. He’s thoughtful but doesn’t take himself too seriously. And very direct and open about The English Beat’s history, his relationship with Ranking Roger and the possibility of working together again, and the struggle to get the new album out to fans. Of the new album, he said he wasn’t sure if it was going to be a “springboard or a swan song” for the Beat. I’m hoping it’s a springboard, because I’m just getting started with them. You can find out more about the new album and the band’s tour dates at EnglishBeat.net.
This week’s featured track is a short chapter from the Audible version of Sloane Crosley’s new collection of personal essays, Look Alive Out There. This is an essay titled “Our Hour Is Up,” which finds Crosley revisiting her grade school days. She writes about how little infractions can stay with you and even form you in some ways. As Crosley writes elsewhere in the book about driving past your old high school, it’s “at once everything and nothing.” Later in the story, she runs into someone who had slighted her back in grade school, which brings up some complicated feelings. That resonates with me. It’s something you have to be on constant lookout for, these tiny blocked arteries that build up and can eventually stop your heart if you don’t flush them.
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