The English Beat

The Complete Beat

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Shout! Factory's The Complete Beat is the kind of deluxe set that fans would dream about but never expect to happen: a five-disc set containing expanded remastered versions of all three of the group's albums, plus two discs of Bonus Beat -- a CD of 12" mixes and dubs, a disc of Peel Sessions and four cuts live from a November 1982 gig in Boston. The Beat -- the "English" was added for the American market -- were only around for five short years, following the 2-Tone path trailblazed by the Specials but speedily developing their own distinctive style, one that was a bit brighter and bearing a stronger Motown influence. Also, the Beat had a knack for pop that culminated on their 1982 swan song, Special Beat Service. That contained their signature hit, "Save It for Later," a contender for a perfect single if there ever were one, but it also opened with the sparkling "I Confess," a gorgeous confection that pointed the way toward Dave Wakeling's subsequent outfit General Public. But unlike Madness, there never was a time when the Beat's main business was pop: they always had one foot firmly planted in ska and blue beat, always could hunker down and dig deep into the groove. This powers I Just Can't Stop It, a ska revival record that rivals the Specials' debut, and it underpins their rapid expansion on Wha'ppen? Each of their albums has a distinctive character, something that carries through to the three Peel Sessions -- one delivered in support for each album -- on the Bonus Beat disc. As always, the extended mixes and dubs are something that appeals to a particular taste -- those who prefer the pop end of the Beat's equation won't find them compelling -- but their rangy, elastic reworkings underline the adventure and excitement at the core of the Beat. They grew up strong and they grew up fast, so fast that their recordings retain a visceral force that makes The Complete Beat something more than a dream come true for fans: it is a convincing argument for their greatness.

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