Little surprise that the Beat (or English Beat, depending on what country the band found itself in) quickly achieved a cult status that has yet to die. A perfect blend of Madness' warm, winning spin on ska and the early Specials' tenser, darker sound, the septet created pop/rock/ska fusions that were instantly memorable and rewarded repeated listens. This compilation showcases many of the band's strongest points, including its two biggest American hits in the incipient alternative scene. "Mirror in the Bathroom" is a crisp, to-the-point picture of self-doubt with great, unnerving sax on the breaks, while "Save It for Later" remains one of the few pop songs about holding off on sex instead of taking the plunge. The latter appears in its fine 12" remix version, one of several rarities making What is Beat? of interest to hardcore fans. Most are U.K.-only singles that never appeared on any of the group's three albums, including the almost sprightly "What's Your Best Thing" and "Too Nice to Talk To"'s just-dark-enough nervous dance. Two other remixes turn up: the cover of "Can't Get Used to Losing You" moves with moody, string-touched atmosphere, while noted early-'80s dance producer John "Jellybean" Benitez does a salsa-tinged revamp of "I Confess." More familiar cuts include the captivating remake of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles' "Tears of a Clown," the shuddering "Twist and Crawl," and "Doors of Your Heart," which features Ranking Roger's toasting skills quite nicely. The album wraps up with a fiery live medley of "Get a Job" and "Stand Down Margaret," recorded in Boston in late 1982, a bonus that captures the band at a definite highpoint.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett