In Britain, the (English) Beat were moving very much in the wrong direction, as their chart placements made clear. "Save It for Later," released in April 1982, barely made the Top 50, "Jeanette," their new album's taster, just brushed number 45, "I Confess" didn't even chart, probably because its flip, "Sole Salvation," was also culled from the album, while "Ackee 1 2 3" placed outside the Top 50.
The slippage had started with Wha'ppen?, as the group had veered sharply away from their frenetic roots, Special Beat Service would take them even further from their early punk-fired fury. Still, Wha'ppen? boasted cultural themes, its angry and angsty lyrics sharply defining the set. Special Beat Service didn't even have that, and after two Top Three albums, the group was forced to settle for a placement just outside the Top 20.
But in the U.S., their sun was on the ascendant, and a band who had yet to place a platter into the Top 100 suddenly found itself with a Top 40 hit album. The singles that barely scratched the charts in the U.K. found happy homes in the clubs, slotting nicely around the mix of New Wave and burgeoning New Romantic numbers American clubbers craved.
And so "I Confess," with its Joe Jackson-esque piano line, Dave Wakeling's sweet vocals soaring toward heaven, and the jazzy sax all cosseting the insistent drums and bouncing tablas; the fast and furious "Jeanette," with its French street flair and ever more surreal rhymes; "Save It for Later"'s superb blend of jangly Byrds-esque guitars and stomping beats; "Sole Salvation"'s nod to mod that hints at the Jam's "Beat Surrender," which arrived the same month, and the calypso party atmosphere of "Ackee," all set listeners feet tapping.
These were the ones that hit with the DJs, but the whole set was equally worthy and moved onto the dancefloor with abandon. Producer Bob Sargeant gives it all a bright and brash sound, which may not have favored more reggae-heavy numbers like "Spar wid Me" and "Pato and Roger a Go Talk," but the Beat were diving into the New Wave with gusto, and the production emphasizes those currents. Songs like "Sugar & Stress," where the sax storms across the driving rhythm while still retaining the Brit-beat flavor of the guitars and keyboards were a revelation. Even a more downbeat number like the gorgeous "End of the Party" glows under Sargeant's attentions.
In it's own way, Special Beat Service was just as musically adventurous as its predecessor, and boded well for the group's future. Or would have if the Beat hadn't celebrated their success by promptly calling it a day. The music, however, lives on in all its glory. [Edsel's deluxe 2012 expansion of Special Beat Service expands the original album by seven songs and includes a second CD containing an additional 20 bonus tracks and a DVD with two promo videos ("Save It for Later" and "I Confess"), two Top of the Pops performances, two selections from an OTT Broadcast in 1982, an appearance on The Tube in 1983, and three songs from their opening set for the Police at Gateshead International Stadium in 1982. The bonus cuts contain a wealth of BBC sessions, non-LP cuts, and extended mixes, many of which are also on the Bonus Beat supplement on the simultaneously released The Complete Beat box, but there are cuts from an appearance at Hammersmith Palais and the previously unreleased "It Makes Me Rock," which can not be found on the big box, so that's reason for collectors and completists to seek this out.