For the uninitiated, The Beat (known as The English Beat in the US) are a group formed in Birmingham in the late 1970s that fused the sounds of ska and 2-tone with punk and new wave, to the tune of several high-charting singles and two top 10 albums. Bounce is their fourth studio album, and their first in over 30 years.
It was funded via crowdfunding website PledgeMusic and released on the independent label DMF Records, with founding member Ranking Roger taking on writing duties alongside his son Ranking Junior and producer Mick Lister.
The Beat’s sound is typical of a British band that cut its teeth in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s as working class black and white culture came together to subvert ideas of what pop music could be. This concept of ‘culture clash’ is highly prevalent on The Beat’s latest effort, with the decidedly Caribbean influence of Ranking Roger’s vocal performances being complimented by typically Anglo-American guitar rock sounds.
Heaven Hiding, despite an odd rim shot here and there, would be a very straightforward British indie track, with sunshine pop harmonies and jangly guitars, were it not for the singer’s unmistakable vocal style. Whether it works as part of an album is questionable, but as a single piece of music it’s an interesting listen.
This theme runs through the entire record, and for the most part is successfully pulled off. On some occasions however the effect is muted, with Avoid The Obvious seemingly sacrificing its edge by attempting to anglicise its sound too much. When the ska influences do try to chime in it comes across as more of a novelty, a strange kind of instrumental cameo than something that works as part of a greater whole.
A few tracks on the record attempt a more direct Caribbean sound. Walking On The Wrong Side is a fast-paced, dub-tinged thunderstorm of muted guitars and sinister brass, while Fire Burn displays a similarly dark tone albeit at a lower tempo. The band feels more at ease with this direction, and, though one cannot fault them for their more experimental attempts, it makes for more comfortable listening too.
Bounce doesn’t come close to the kind of stuff The Beat was churning out in the 1980s, but with 30 years having passed and a barely recognisable line-up, that wasn’t ever going to be on the cards. What we do have here is a passable collection of reggae fusion tracks that bring a bit of sonic sunshine as the British winter rears its ugly head, and for that we can be grateful.