The English Beat – Wha’ppen?

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

Initially, I only owned the What Is Beat? compilation but I eventually went all in (and sold the comp). The thing about What Is is that it’s not really a Best of collection, as it includes a bunch of non-album singles and relies on remixes or live versions instead of the studio versions of the album tracks. It’s more accurately considered a bizarre, fan-only sampler. I miss not having “Ranking Full Stop” and maybe some of the other singles, but I feel like I made the right choice. At a bare minimum, the first album is a must-own.

What I Think of This Album

Wha’ppen?, indeed. A decidedly different approach from the English Beat (much like, it should be mentioned, the change in sound that contemporaries the Specials engineered from first to second album), but just as successful as it was surprising. That said, it is the least immediate album of the band’s trilogy.

None of the singles from this album did very well, and I am not surprised. Few of the individual tracks stand out, but it all coheres pretty well despite the disparate styles on offer, coming across like a not-at-all annoying world music record. The tempos are much slower this time, and ska is at best just one of the styles in the mix. The English Beat incorporate pop, West African music, funk, jazz, steel drums, dub, and Spanish guitar, among other sounds, in a sophisticated and self-assured fashion that demonstrates the band’s confidence and competence. 

“Doors of Your Heart” is warm and smooth (maybe too much so), balanced by the energetic and paranoid “All Out to Get You,” on which Saxa cuts loose on his namesake instrument. There is a Latin feel to “Monkey Murders” (in fact, there is a melody part that sounds a lot like “La Bamba”). The anti-jingoist song “I Am Your Flag” doesn’t really work, but it is followed by the excellent cover of “French Toast (Soleil Trop Chaud).” This, the only cover on the disc, is the closest the sextet gets to the spirit of I Just Can’t Stop It, though it is calypso and West African guitar in the place of ska.

Reggae is given the brittle new wave treatment on “Drowning,” and really the same can be said of woozy, drawn-out “Dreamhome in NZ,” with the addition of jazzy sax. “Walkaway” has more Afro-pop guitars supporting a winning melody. “Over and Over” is all hard edges and sharp corners, even with the addition of the steel drums and trumpet. “Cheated” is basically straight up dub.

Jazzy lite-funk is the vehicle for “Get-A-Job” and the album ends strong with the pleasantly meandering “The Limits We Set.” Bonus track “Too Nice to Talk To” relies on the edginess of the band’s earlier new wave songs but with the world music touches of the rest of the material on Wha’ppen?, including some distinctive African drumming.

I don’t want to diminish it, but this album is best enjoyed as a whole and without a lot of inspection, perhaps paired with a nice glass of red.

The original album contains twelve songs. I have the 1999 reissue, which adds non-album single “Too Nice to Talk To” as the first track, which is absolutely the wrong place for it. It throws off the feel of the whole album. Also, the liner notes on this reissue are absolute crap. They not only misspell two band member names, they omit vocalist Cedric Myton from the list of guest musicians. Oh, Bob Sargeant produced again.

The Best Thing About This Album

I think Saxa really does great work with a variety of sounds and styles.

Release Date

May, 1981 (original); 1999 (reissue)

The Cover Art

The original artwork is by cartoonist Hunt Emerson and the band, and is intriguing and colorful, though I can’t say it’s a favorite of mine.That said, the cover art for the reissue is a hot mess of a collage and not any kind of improvement.

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