They weren't the first or best at what they did, but over the course of three early-Eighties albums, the English Beat made music that remains uncommonly potent. Along with the Specials and the Selecter, they were among the first wave of 2 Tone Records acts, and as biracial ska revivalists, they added "English" to their name to differentiate themselves from an American power-pop outfit. The Complete Beat, five CDs, contains almost everything the group recorded, original LPs augmented with bonus tracks, and singles like "Tears of a Clown," "Mirror in the Bathroom," "Ranking Full Stop," and "Save It for Later" still contain an appealing crunch. One reason is both the elasticity inherent in what they do, be it reggae, ska, soul, or Afro-pop, and the melodies, beats, and musical sensibilities that have never gone out of style. Obvious influences on bands like Vampire Weekend and Givers abound. 1980's I Just Can't Stop It remains the band's strongest work, with the next two releases, '81's Wha'ppen? and '82's Special Beat Service finding the UK sixpiece becoming less frenetic, leaning more on pop while also digging deeper into reggae. Of special interest to fanatics will be the 2-CD Bonus Beat set containing material previously unavailable on CD. One disc collects 15 extended and dub mixes like the psychedelicized "Stand Down Margaret" and a sticky remix of "I Confess." The real treasure is the second disc. Three sessions recorded for John Peel on the BBC, one per album release, and part of a 1982 Boston show prove that the English Beat were as energetic as any 2 Tone band ever. Separately, there's also the new Keep the Beat: The Very Best of the English Beat, boiling the box down to 16 cuts to move your head, heart, and feet.
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