February 10, 2019

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Album Review: The Specials – Encore



This shouldn’t be happening.

It’s indicative of where Blighty is right now, both musically and socially, that this album has not only been made (the first album from this version of the Specials in forty years) but also that it’s depressingly relevant.

A quick recap: The Specials shot to fame in the late 1970s with a string of Top 10 singles. Their ska sound was revivalist, but the content wasn’t. Social commentary was the order of the day against a backdrop of urban decay and violence in the inner cities, most famously detailed on their 1981 UK number one single Ghost Town. From there they became something of a revolving door for members, to an extent that you’d need a flow chart to keep track of it. They span off into various collectives but always maintained a key message of equality and, most especially, anti-racism.

They’ve been ‘back’ for a good while now, but Encore is their first album of new material in that time. Sadly, in the age of Brexit, austerity and Black Lives Matter, they and their message have never been more prescient and vital.

 

Although a cover (the original by the Equals back in 1973), opener Black Skinned Blue Eyed Boys is their manifesto; ‘The world will be half breed’, they sing against a disco funk that Chic would be proud of. Hammering home the message, B.L.M. (see above) is a desperate tale of one Jamaican man (guitarist Lynval Golding) orating his experiences of discrimination from being a Windrush passenger to strolling around contemporary America. Lead single Vote For Me pulls from their past most obviously; the haunting trumpet echoing Ghost Town as Terry Hall laments the dire state and short-termism of modern British politics. The Lunatics is another diatribe against those in power, they having unsurprisingly ‘taken over the asylum’. It’s not hard to see who he’s referring to. (Hint: he lives in a white house.)

By now you’ve got the gist; Breaking Point is an ooompa-loompa tread around where we are as a western society, with all the pressures we work within. Embarrassed By You is a scathing condemnation of the more confidently certain characters that walk our streets and occupy our screens. Blam Blam Fever takes a more light-hearted tack on rising gun crime. Best of all is 10 Commandments, with vocals from Saffiyah Khan, the young woman who was famously photographed standing up to a member of the EDL. It puts you in her shoes and is unforgiving but enlightening.

If this all sounds a bit intense, fear not. Musically the Coventry mob are perhaps more jaunty than they’ve ever been, their traditional ska sound given a rhythmic bounce which is held together by some outstanding bass work. Closer We Sell Hope is more reggae than ska and accentuates the band’s strength as more than a one trick pony, a slower beat requiring much more discipline. ‘We’ve got to take care of each other’ as a closing salvo complements the opening track perfectly.

There’s an argument to be made that their peers four decades ago were Madness and The Jam, in musical style and lyrics respectively. Paul Weller no longer sings the songs of the suburbs, and Madness do what they always do. Probably due to their own internal diversity, The Specials were always more intent on railing against the wrongs of life. It’s no different on Encore, and once peace is made with the sound of men in their 50s railing against the inequalities of life, you’re left bewildered as to why they should still be doing it.

We’ve never needed them more, but to be listening to music of this quality is some consolation.

(Richard Bowes)

By Live4ever - Posted on 05 Feb 2019 at 9:44am 


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