Remember when 2 Tone was a really big deal?
I don’t either, because I wasn’t born yet. But it was a really big deal in the UK for a little while. And like so many fads it’s kind of hard to get what the big deal was decades later. That story is probably a little bit like the story of rock and roll: a bunch of white teenagers and twenty somethings were suddenly exposed to music they had never heard before, and this music had energy and rhythm that was just so different. And it probably felt great and it was likely extremely easy to ignore the cultural appropriation going on. (Though The Beat get a bit of a pass for that, don’t they? If anything they’re a lot closer in spirit to white-led jazz groups.)
“Mirror in the Bathroom” is a great song and, for me, one of the best examples of the 2 Tone/New Wave spectrum. But I’m sorry to tell you that it is far and away the best and most memorable thing here. It’s so memorable the reused the sax part on another song! (I’m only half kidding.) At least one reason why I find this particular album and most 2 Tone in general underwhelming is the lack of strong material. There was a hell of a lot of sheer energy in music in 1980 and to stand out you need some songs to go along with it. There’s not enough of that here.
The energy is here, though. As you would expect. It’s that particular blend of punk and reggae that British bands were so good at. And it works as far as it goes. But I don’t know that it’s special in the way that the reviews of this album suggest. Maybe it’s because I’d rather listen to reggae and punk incorporated into other forms of music, but I have the same problem with this record that I have with all 2 Tone I’ve heard: it’s pretty one-dimensional and once you get it you got it. If I had been exposed to this music at a different time in my life, maybe I’d feel differently. But give me The Police over this stuff any day of the week. I just need more to my music.
And the record has dated a bit, of course. That’s true of most 2 Tone and it’s true of most New Wave and Post Punk. The difference, for me, with those latter genres is that I like them. I don’t care how dated Post Punk sounds now because it’s a style I generally really like. The same goes for (much) New Wave. But with 2 Tone I find the sound very much of a time and that’s true of this record. It’s not that I dislike it so much as that it recalls a very specific time, one I wasn’t alive for, and that is a big part of the appeal. This record has that same vaguely echoy sound that so much 2 Tone and Post Punk has. (Though obviously it’s more extreme and prominent in Post Punk.) And in the case of 2 Tone, I’m not sure what it adds to it.
Fine but hardly a classic.