“Wha’ppen” by The Beat - album review

TJR says

Wha'ppen? The album of the year's happening, that's what! Possibly the album which I’ve sung with the most gusto ever; enclosed printed lyrics were always a great thing for a teenager! Completely infectious, clever and constantly entertaining, The Beat ruled my world with this release. Arriving in June, 1981, one year on from the debut, the sussed six instinctively veered away from the Ska, mainly embracing reggae and other Caribbean rhythms, with flair, imagination and no little skill. They remain: Dave Wakeling (vocals, guitar), ‘Ranking Roger’ Charlery (vocals), Andy Cox (guitar), David Steele (bass), Everett Morton (drums), and Lionel ‘Saxa’ Martin (saxophone). 38-year-old keyboardist Dave 'Blockhead' Wright proves to be a very welcome guest, particularly due to the fact that the former XTC man had played with a steel band called The Casanovas in St Kitts, lending some valuable experience in that department. Other guests add steel drum and trumpet, all under the direction of producer Bob Sargeant who himself has a go on marimba! Reflecting on the successful and cohesive whole Roger noted: “Everybody would write onto somebody else’s thing and a lot of the lyrics came in that way. It was a great way to get stuff together and say well that’s a band effort. Cause even like the smallest line from the drummer could get into the song. We used a lot of bits from headlines and stuff like that. It all came together and made sense.

The album opens mightily with the anti-racist anthem “Doors Of Your Heart” on which it's clear, it's strictly love and unity they are dealing in today: “Stick him in your living room and turn off the light eh, Bet you wouldn't know if he was black or white… I say just because you're brown, You no fe g'wan like a clown, Just because you're white, You no fe broke a likkle fight eh”. The frenetic Ska of the debut may be gone, but the 2-Tone spirit is alive and well. It was the album's second single, but only rose to #33, reflecting the general feeling late in '81 that the British Ska revivalists were now losing support from your fast-fashion pop-fan. The perfection is continued on “All Out To Get You” (the album's AA lead single, a #22 hit) in which we're introduced to a new flirtation with Caribbean and African rhythms, somehow linking Kingston with Port of Spain and Kinshasa. “You're scared you might slip when you're holding a knife, Lose your fingers or more in a lathe on the nightshift, You're scared that your babies, Get born with no legs, You're so scared of death, You don't know what life is.” Is that the lyrical verse of the year? I think so - don't let them paint your life in a permanent grey! A super-complex, psuedo-Spanish variation of reggae is next to be served via “Monkey Murders”: “Let's be kind to one another, Share your sister, You could eat your brother, Who cares when it's only fashion? Remember, monkey murders, Always come with passion.” Don't lose your mind to external controlling forces seems to be the message on that one, whilst being careful about your cause also informs “I Am Your Flag”, where the bright and breezy new-wave fast-funk contrasts dramatically with the sheer bleakness of the lyrics: “I ran into Northern Ireland, I ran into Afghanistan, Dying to become a man? I am your flag.” A spectacular cover of “French Toast (Soleil Trop Chaud)” follows, a song which was originally done as “Soleil Trop Chaud” by Les Grammacks, a Cadence-lypso group from Dominica, in 1974. It amazes me what a feeling they have for this style, it's simply awesome how naturally they play. Closing side one is the A-side of the aforementioned “All Out To Get You”, “Drowning”, which does a marvellous job of actually making you feel like you're drowning, what with its wobbly bass and generally disorienting, sinking sound. Basically, the pressure of life takes the weight off the body: “So in between the sleepless nights, You dream that you are winning fights, But then it happens, dreadful thing, A wave appears too big to swim, You're drowning, you're drowning.” This is very much the feeling of '81 for many, very much their “Ghost Town”.

The sense of hopelessness continues on side two in the excellent “Dream Home In NZ” which teases that fortune, fame, a car and a dream home in New Zealand could be just around the corner for you. Who cares that the Americans and Russians could be heading for WWIII? It's not until the 8th track, the immense “Walk Away”, that the politics turn personal, as the perils of the destructive relationship are starkly laid bare: “walk away before i do something stupid, walk away before these threats turn into, one of us could do it, walk away before i say it's getting too much, walk away walk away, before both of us cracks up”. We're back on the Caribbean rhythms with the steel drum having a key role to play on the bouncy “Over And Over”, before getting heavily dubby with yet another all-time classic, “Cheated”: “Young swingers in these sun-dialing times, Sweeping the nation with a dance called 'the breadline', It's in our water, and our education, We are oppressed into association, Cheated, cheated”. At this time, Britain was heading towards the headline-making unemployment figure of 3 million, or 12.5% of the workforce, a level that hadn't been seen for some 50 years. The government's training schemes, designed to improve the published figures, are taking the piss, and the furious “Get A Job” allows the frustration to flood out: “manufacture rubbish although no one can afford it, you could make a profit more than anyone deserves, so you find you're left with poison so you dump it in our water, and so create the kind of problems only radiation cures through get-a-job, get-a-job”. In live gigs, the group would nail their point home by seguing “Get A Job” with “Stand Down Margaret”. They see no joy, they see only sorrow, a desperation which leads us into the album's closer, “The Limits We Set”: “the little you can expect to get, to get from anyone else, makes you look after number one, the only helping hand, you'll ever be offered, is the one at the end of your own arm”.

So, it turns out that Wha'ppen? actually translated as “what the fuck's happening to Britain in 1981?” Despite the unrelenting negativity of the subject matter, not only do this dreamy beat combo deliver a hard-hitting message, but do so with a masterclass in rhythm, superb co-vocals and a sax which soothes the soul. Never mind album of the year, “Wha'ppen?” stands as one of the greatest album statements of all-time.

The Jukebox Rebel
05-Dec-2005

A1 [03:47] 10.0.png The Beat - Doors Of Your Heart (Dave Wakeling, Roger Charlery, Andy Cox, David Steele, Everett Morton, Lionel Martin, Colin Osborne) Reggae
A2 [02:46] 10.0.png The Beat - All Out To Get You (Dave Wakeling, Roger Charlery, Andy Cox, David Steele, Everett Morton, Lionel Martin) Caribbean
A3 [03:13] 9.8.png The Beat - Monkey Murders (Dave Wakeling, Roger Charlery, Andy Cox, David Steele, Everett Morton, Lionel Martin) Reggae
A4 [02:55] 9.0.png The Beat - I Am Your Flag (Dave Wakeling, Roger Charlery, Andy Cox, David Steele, Everett Morton, Lionel Martin) New Wave
A5 [03:30] 10.0.png The Beat - French Toast (Soleil Trop Chaud) (Jefferson Joseph) Caribbean
A6 [03:51] 10.0.png The Beat - Drowning (Dave Wakeling, Roger Charlery, Andy Cox, David Steele, Everett Morton, Lionel Martin) Reggae
B1 [03:12] 8.8.png The Beat - Dream Home In NZ (Dave Wakeling, Roger Charlery, Andy Cox, David Steele, Everett Morton, Lionel Martin) Reggae
B2 [03:13] 10.0.png The Beat - Walk Away (Dave Wakeling, Roger Charlery, Andy Cox, David Steele, Everett Morton, Lionel Martin) Reggae
B3 [02:40] 8.8.png The Beat - Over And Over (Dave Wakeling, Roger Charlery, Andy Cox, David Steele, Everett Morton, Lionel Martin) Caribbean
B4 [03:30] 9.6.png The Beat - Cheated (Dave Wakeling, Roger Charlery, Andy Cox, David Steele, Everett Morton, Lionel Martin) Reggae
B5 [03:13] 8.9.png The Beat - Get A Job (Dave Wakeling, Roger Charlery, Andy Cox, David Steele, Everett Morton, Lionel Martin) Ska / Rocksteady
B6 [04:14] 8.2.png The Beat - The Limits We Set (Dave Wakeling, Roger Charlery, Andy Cox, David Steele, Everett Morton, Lionel Martin) Reggae




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