photo credit: Les Mcluckie
Here We Go Love, The English Beat starring Dave Wakeling
Album Review by Robert E. Rubin (Bobby)
May 29, 2018
Let the Grammy buzz begin. The only question — and it’s a big one — is to which category does this long-awaited album belong? Is it pop? Reggae? Ska? Jazz? Soul? Rock? The answer, as you may have guessed, is that Here We Go Love is all of the above, and then some. This should come as no surprise to hardcore fans of The (English) Beat. After all, the first three albums defied compartmentalization. No one had quite heard music like the music of The English Beat before. Grounded in the 2Tone/Ska craze of the late 70’s England, The English Beat emerged as a band that could not be categorized into a neat little compartment. Amazingly, roughly 40 years later, Dave Wakeling and company have managed to capture the magic of 1978-1982 while confidently putting a fresh, modern stamp on the sound.
Dave Wakeling is arguably the best lyricist of the 1980’s; his smart, poignant, political, and often playful lyrics remind us that “words like conviction can turn into a sentence” (Tenderness), that “sooner or later, your legs give way, you hit the ground” (Save it for Later), and that humans “create the kind of problems only radiation cures” (Get a Job). In one of his most political moments, a kind of non-violent protest that a generation earlier the Civil Rights Movement espoused, Dave and The Beat politely but persistently ask Mrs. Thatcher to “Stand down, Margaret, stand down, please.”
These songs, musically and lyrically, have stood the test of time. Hits like Save it for Later, Tenderness, and Mirror in the Bathroom seem to have conquered time, in fact, much like Mr. Wakeling himself. Now in his 6th decade, the spry and youthful-looking Godfather of Ska, cheekbones and dimples still very much in place, continues to write poignant, passionate, and, well, fun songs.
No need for more of a history lesson about The (English) Beat. Longtime fans know the history; they know about General Public and Dave’s subsequent solo album (a brilliant record in its own right); they know about the various iterations of “The Beat” led by Dave, Ranking Roger, and drummer Everett Morton, respectively. What is important to note here is that The English Beat starring Dave Wakeling have managed something that almost no other artist ever manages to do: repeat history while simultaneously carving out a new path forward.
Here We Go Love preserves the band’s original, groundbreaking sound while offering a fresh, modern approach. It’s a delicate dance, but we’re talking about The English Beat here. You must dance when a Beat record comes on. It is physically impossible not to. So let’s dance!
The first song on the album, How Can You Stand There (no question mark, interestingly enough – this song is making a statement), picks up where Stand Down Margaret leaves off. Just as the band politely insisted that Mrs. Thatcher take a hike, How Can You Stand There asks all of us to re-examine our own role in a world that seems to be swallowing itself whole in a quagmire of environmental, political, and social destruction. Dave asks, or rather, emphatically states, “How can you stand there/when all around you is a lie/how can you stand there/and wonder why.” Lyrically, this is serious business. Musically, the song is glorious and infectiously energetic. If you don’t get up to dance to this one, you’re dead. Full stop. Ranking Full Stop. The song builds, adding layer upon layer with each verse and chorus, until the listener is pulled toward the final minute of glorious, ska-sational frenzy. Musically, you cannot stand there; it’s absolutely impossible. Lyrically, you realize that you can no longer stand by while so much is wrong with the world. Thus, How Can You Stand There is more than just getting up on your feet to dance; it’s about getting up out of your comfortable middle-class chair and making a change in the world.
The One and Only follows, and it harkens back to General Public’s first album, All the Rage, a modern-day Tenderness and Never You Done That rolled into one. GP fans will especially like this one.
Redemption Time is next, with elements of UB 40 and dancehall reggae. “You can’t say no” to this song, nor should you. This song is pure bliss, with elements of Forward as One by General Public.
If Killing Worked repeats the formula of How Can You Stand There, upbeat and very danceable music obligating your feet to move while the lyrics obligate you to examine your own political and social conscience, exactly what the best social and political music of the 1980’s – much of it written by Mr. Wakeling — did. Dave gives us a mirror (in the bathroom, perhaps?) and asks us to look directly into it: “Turn on your TV/see what we’ve done/our culture looks like a setting sun.” If Killing Worked is straightforward pop/rock, a stark but brilliant contrast to the previous reggae-infused track.
Here We Go Love gives us insight into Dave’s marvelous sense of humor and magnificent use of double-entendre: “here we go love/heavens above/ God only nose/all covered in blood.” That clever play on words is one of the few lyrics in this song to get a PG rather than R rating. But Dave clearly doesn’t give a f—. At this point in his career Papa Dave can say and sing what he wants, and he doesn’t mince words with this one. But somehow, rather than sounding angry, the song sounds playful. I’m not sure how Dave accomplishes this, but he just does. I found myself grinning ear to ear as I sang along with a lot of words that end in –uck, -ick, and –unt”. Serious fun, this one. It would be a hit song on the radio, but, bleeping out that many words makes it problematic. Great f—ing song!
Never Die is a beautiful, touching song, and a crowd favorite at shows. This song feels like a big Papa Dave hug to his fans, a timeless gift to listeners who need a big English Beat embrace. Soft and gentle, Never Die builds into triumphant victory over sadness, rather than wallowing in sadness, embracing it and overcoming it by song’s end. “Just try to live your life like each day was your last,” Dave implores us, and we have no choice but to agree. Never Die is a testament to the fact that The English Beat’s music will indeed never die.
The Love You Give takes us by the hand for a hopeful stroll that fits as the perfect complement to Never Die. The Love You Give reminds us that we are indeed never going to die, because “the love you give lasts forever.” Love is eternal, and although Joy Division contended that “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” Dave reaffirms that love will bring us closer to immortality. Infused with gorgeous harmonies, Dave’s vocals make us believe that we will live forever, and we can feel him smiling knowingly as he sings this absolutely gorgeous song.
You Really Oughta Know is the perfect poster child for Here We Go Love: a mix of jazz, reggae, and pop, it is immediately satisfying, with a horn section reminiscent of “Come Again” from General Public’s second album, Hand to Mouth.
You’re Stuck starts off with a hard-driving guitar riff, and it never lets up off the gas pedal. Blinding song, the band rockin’ out from start to finish.
Everytime You Told Me, with its smooth sax solo, is a bluesy tune. Both musically and lyrically, this song harkens back to to Workin’ for a Livin’ by Huey Lewis and the News, one of the best blue-collar tunes of the 80’s. “Damned if you do/damned if you don’t” are lyrics shared by both of these hardworking songs.
Dem Call It Ska brings us back to classic ska/reggae all the way: “All this and you still want more?” Dave asks, almost perplexed. Yes, we are spoiled by this Grammy-worthy album, so while we are immensely satisfied, near the end of this masterpiece of an album, we do indeed still want more.
In Drive Her Away, we get more! More pop, and it’s more than welcomed in this eclectic mix of musical mastery.
The final track is Be There For You, a reggae song with a slight calypso feel to it, reminding us that this album will be there for us, just like the other Beat albums, an instant and timeless classic that we’ll want to hear again and again and again. There’s a dignified nod to Bob Marley to close the song out. The sax solo at the end of Be There for You is something that the legendary Saxa would be proud of, all of it culminating in Whistling Wakeling’s trademark sibilance.
With Here We Go Love, Dave Wakeling and company have once again hit the Jackpot. For fans and listeners, it’s not The End of the Party, but just the beginning of a new chapter in the sublime, and uncategorizable sound that is The English Beat.
- Robert E. Rubin is a freelance writer, English and Spanish professor, and kickboxing instructor in Dayton, Ohio.