It would be easy to attribute the resurgence of American interest in 2-tone/ska (there are thriving scenes from Boston to Los Angeles) to our propensity for tossing every musical movement from the past into the recycle bin for quick repackaging and mindless consumption. But the history of the music (which originated in Jamaica) is a rich one, with unforced cultural hybridity and a quest for racial harmony as two of its strong tenets. The volatile political tenor of our times is not too different than the era when 2-tone/ska thrived, so it’s also very much a soundtrack of today.
English Beat were one of the leading lights of the British 2-tone/ska movement of the ‘80s; their politically charged protest songs (“Stand Down Margaret,” “Get a Job”) and smartly observed, saccharine-free love songs (“I Confess,” “Jeanette”) still hold up magnificently today. This 5-CD retrospective includes all three of their studio albums, re-mastered ("I Just Can’t Stop It," from 1980; "Wha’ppen?", from 1981; and "Special Beat Service," from 1982) – as well as a disc of remixes and dub versions, and a disc of live performances spanning 1979-1982. While it’s great to have the old albums re-mastered, the real draw here are the remixes and the concert performances. The latter, in particular, are exhilarating, capturing the band in its youthful prime. With the band full of fire and vinegar, their songs of uplift and resistance crackle with optimism.