If you aren’t familiar with 2nd-wave ska legends The English Beat, there are a few things you should know. First, they began as The Beat in England, with lead vocalists Ranking Roger and Dave Wakeling. Because there was already a band called The Beat in the United States, their albums here were released here as The English Beat. The original line-up broke-up, but now in the UK, Ranking Roger fronts The Beat, featuring Ranking Roger (or called The New English Beat in the U.S.), while Dave Wakeling fronts The English Beat starring Dave Wakeling.
Yeah, it’s all a little confusing, so here’s a simpler fact – the new album from Dave Wakeling’s The English Beat, titled Here We Go Love, is very good. Full of smooth, dance-ready bursts of throwback ska, mod, new wave and reggae-inspired rock, the LP is the best argument for ska’s modern relevancy I’ve heard in years.
Album opener “How Can You Stand There?” is upbeat ska perfect for skanking, with Wakeling’s soulful vocals blending a pop sheen to the track. While The English Beat take influences from all over the spectrum, their foundation remains built on early Jamaican ska, which they pay homage to on “Dem Call it Ska”. They go even further into rocksteady on the sunny “Redemption Time”. While Wakeling’s attempts to inflect a bit of Jamaican skat falls flat, the Bob Marley-channeling chorus and Latin-tinged horn lines redeem the islandy jam.
There’s a strong influence of early mod and Elvis Costello throughout, such on melodic rockers “The One and Only” and “Drive Her Away”. The songwriting is straight forward but successful, using simple melodies and hooky choruses to leave lasting impacts.
Though the songs all have a warmth and sweetness to them musically, lyrically there’s often a political edge, most clearly on album stand-out “If Killing Worked”. Sounding like Joe Strummer fronting a Motown soul band, the track manages to turn “If killing worked, it would have worked by now” into singalong chorus. This is followed by the ultra-catchy title track, which takes things from serious politics to a carefree party; “Heaven’s above, God only knows, who gives a fuck.” Kudos to the drummer who drives the track along effortlessly on a rolling fast pace.
One of the most unique songs here is “Never Die”, a melancholy ballad which slowly builds upon lush strings and crescendoing vocals to evolve into an uplifting hymn, with hints of Van Morrison peaking through.
The album does stumble a couple times. “Every Time You Told Me” is an attempt at doo wop that doesn’t really stick, and the lyrics of “The Love You Give” rank high on the cheese factor (though the message is so sincere it nearly gets away with it). But these two misfires don’t take away from the overall achievement of making a great ska album in the year 2018.
With influences coming from all over the spectrum, Here We Go Love is an endlessly fun, feel-good record that avoids sounding modern in the best way possible.