In the early days of the ’80’s burgeoning U.K. New Wave scene, The English Beat skanked forth with a pairing of punk attitude and reverence for the West Indies Trojan Record ska movement of the ’60s. Their music was undeniably danceable and frenetic, and the band took a tongue-in-cheek anti-establishment stance that questioned Thatcher-era conservative politics, cultural exclusion, and imminent threat of nuclear war.
Their black-and-white blended roster helped to catapult the two-tone ska wave. In doing so, it allowed them to land on the U.K. and U.S. charts with three very different albums (Just Can’t Stop It; Wha’ppen? and Special Beat Service), but it came with a meteoric rise that would end after just five years.
A musical mitosis soon followed as band co-founder Dave Wakeling split off with toaster Ranking Roger to succeed with the snappy and cheeky General Public. Meanwhile, guitarist Andy Cox and bassist Dave Steele formed, and hit it big briefly, with Fine Young Cannibals. Both camps succeeded, but again longevity was not on their side.
Now, some 36 years later, Wakeling has fostered a new band and a new beat with new songs, carefully crafted, successfully creating a new identity with his Americanized English Beat.
The culmination of his efforts is Here We Go Love, a kaleidoscope of newly-realized ska mashups, introspective rich ballads, and even some infectious upstart rock numbers for good measure. In all, the much-anticipated album clocks in with 13 songs in just under an hour.
The album, which is being released in the U.S. on June 15, has already been out in the U.K. since April, where it is getting heavy rotation on England’s Radio 2. Here We Go Love is on Wakeling’s own label, aptly named Here We Go Records, and funded with a PledgeMusic campaign that at last tally had fan support surpassing 215 percent of its goal.
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The Americanized ska troubadour, who has called California home for the past several years, wastes little time showing that his mastery of ska-inflicted vocals and guitar strokes have not only not dulled, but have expanded, opening the new album with the syncopated “How Can You Stand There,” a call to dance with lyrics that fit the troubling times.
Wakeling surrounds his thick Brit-palated vocals and skanking guitar upstrokes with a steady diet of sassy pop-sax blows, and farfisa-pumpin’ glee from Michael Railton-powered keyboard. Lyrically, Wakeling talks about putting ourselves into the shoes of those with less, and a world threatened by its own leaders and their agendas.
“Redemption Time” is a refreshing take on the early-day ska with belching sax accents melded with a conga-line back beat. If next track “If Killing Worked” has a familiar ska jingle-jangle, it is because of the ax work of former Specials’ guitarist Roddy Radiation Byers.
The title track “Here We Go Love” is a head-boppin’ rocker with Wakeling and supportive vocal harmonizing. What makes the poppy number work is a catchy guitar, drum and organ dash. It’s a danceable number that conjures up the same frenetic connection the older Beat, but with even more drive.
The torch ballad “Never Die” and uplifting pop-lifter “The Love You Give” follow as the true two-part album-anchoring center that really pull on the heart strings. "Never Die" showcases the dexterity of Wakeling’s range and emotive skills as he laments over loss and regret, layered with lush orchestration, including a haunting violin by guest player and one-time prodigy Leah Zeger Powerhouse. Veteran singer Durga McBroom from Pink Floyd Australian tours lends her soaring vocals.
Wakeling juggles his band’s input with guest vocalists, notably West Coast singers Kevin Williams and Jelani Jones. Other notable names include original Beat players drummer Everett Morton and guitarist Andy Cox.
“The Love You Give” is about finding meaning in life’s impermanence. The music is poppy, uplifting with undulating keys that conjures up odes to General Public’s “Tenderness”.
Wakeling ska that has a more Santa Monica feel on “You’re Stuck” as guest Train axman Luis Maldonado gives his shredding best.
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"Den Call It Ska” is the album’s cheeky, Jamaican rub-a-dub in which Wakeling’s syncopated vocals are punctuated by one-time Beat toaster Antonee First Class gives several teriffic toasting touches.
The final cut, “Be There for You,” closes with a layered back lilt that weaves in and out of melodic horns. Wakeling weaves his vocals in uncomplicated “whine and grind” fashion, accented with Beat signature rim clicks as the album tails off.
Kyle Hoffmann is the album’s producer, while, award-winning engineer Jay Baumgardner handled a clean and tight final mix. The album was recorded at his NGR Studios in Hollywood.
Here We Go Love is undeniably danceable and stands on its own without leaning on the spirit of his old band. Wakeling’s quest for relevancy has been answered with a resounding beat that has heart and message of love in a world of turmoil.