What does it sound like?:
From their first single (on their own label) in 1979 to their (slightly messy, but politically infused) break-up of the original line-up, The Specials packed a lot into their original 3 year incarnation (before splintering to Fun Boy Three and the Dammers-helmed Special AKA).
A short period of time between the mashed-up ska-punk of “Gangsters” and the downbeat commentary of “Ghost Town”. They also managed two albums, and both are deemed (and rightly so) as classic of the time.
And now 40 years later, they’re back (in somewhat reduced original membership form).
But … this aint no nostalgic re-tread, they have actually got something to say (even if it a very similar conversation to 40 years ago)
More laid-back than ‘The Specials’ and ‘More Specials’, but echoes of their past filter through everything.
It may not have the energy of the debut – indeed it’s more in the late period Ghost Town vein. Songs with a message delivered carefully and concisely so you get the point, but still find your self bouncing and/or nodding to the infectious beat behind.
The upbeat punky-ska party can be found on the accompanying Live disk where you’ll find all the favourites including “Gangsters”, “Nite Klub” and “Too Much To Young”. This also includes a great version of “Redemption Song” followed by a massively upbeat “Monkey Man”
Only Terry Hall, Lynval Golding and Horace Panter remain from the original line-up – there’s no Jerry Dammers, Roddy Radiation, Neville Staple or John Bradbury – but the substitutes do a sterling job of replicating their input.
What does it all *mean*?
Opening with a call for peace, tolerance and general acceptance, the cover of The Equals “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys” is more funky than reggae, but still hits the mark and you just know you’re listening to The Specials.
The 3 narrative/conversational songs here – “B.L.M” (Lynval’s story of facing racism from childhood to shopping in New York), “10 Commandments” (the Shafia Khan fronted female viewpoint update of the Prince Buster track of the same name”) and “The Life And Times (Of a Man Called Depression)” (an open story about his what it is really like (and Terry Hall, a self confessed sufferer would/should know) – and these are among the most affecting, thought provoking here. .
Politics rears it’s head (as it would do on a Specials album) with “Vote for Me” and, as if to prove nothing has changed in 30-odd years, there is a jazz-infused update of the Fun Boy Three track “The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum” (do Terry and Lynval now have to pay themselves royalties?).
They return to their Ska crate-digging with a cover of The Valentines “Gun Fever” (given it’s alternative title “Blam Blam Fever”).
Both “Breaking Point” and “Embarrassed by You” initially read as a (slight) grumpy old man tale of despair with the world. Both of these, and particularly “Embarrassed By You” do end up thinking “Hang on, you’ve got a point” – much like most of the album.
The final track “We Sell Hope” ties it all together for me – it talks of the contradictions that exist in the world, and a call for tolerance and acceptance of those differences – “Looked all around the world, Could be a beautiful place to live in”
Amen to that
Goes well with…
Might suit people who like…
Songs with a point, whilst being thoroughly entertained.
And if it all gets a bit too heavy, slap on the live disc and bounce around like a loony for a bit.
Either incarnation of The Specials works for me