Wednesday, 30 January 2019

The Specials: Encore - Album Review

The Specialsthespecials
Universal Music / Island Records
Vinyl / CD / DL
Release date: Friday 1st February

After 37 years from the release of Ghost Town, The Specials are back with Terry Hall, Lynval Golding, Horace Panter and co with this modern uptake on life in Britain and how it’s (not) changed much from the bleak times of the late seventies / early eighties. Wayne Carey gets all excited and is not disappointed!
Back when their hit single Ghost Town was released on the masses I was an 11 year old nuisance, buzzing off all the E numbers in the sweets and crisps running riot on a council estate up North. Basically this band changed it all for me and stopped me being a little fucker. I got a paper round and started to save my money to buy the latest 7in vinyl from Woolworths. I was already a music junkie and The Specials were one of those bands that made me jump up and down with their early hits like Concrete Jungle and Too Much Too Young. Now I had a bit of pocket money I could actually buy records. My first score (ahem) was Ghost Town with it’s haunting menacing sound and stark lyrics about the state of Thatcher’s Britain and the scary streets of Coventry back in the day.
Fast forward to 2019….
This album is gonna divide opinion. The purists out there will say “oooh, The Specials aren’t The Specials without Jerry Dammers or Neville Staple” Ok, point taken. They were a crucial part to the band at that time, however things move on. Just remember, they all had an input, and to me Terry Hall was that crucial element with his unique vocal that sounds so familiar even today. You may miss the great toasting from Neville and the pure ska look of Dammers but move on. Three key players are still here and the replacement members Steve Cradock (Ocean Colour Scene) on guitar, Kenrick Rowe the master ska/reggae drummer and Nikolaj Torp Larsen on keyboards all give this album a modernist feel to bring you into the future.

First track is a cover of The Equals – Black Skinned Blue-Eyed Boys and it’s transformed into a disco funk number that will throw the early fans like me. It actually sounds like something Winachi Tribe are doing at the moment which is not a bad thing if Terry Hall has been listening.

Next up Lynval Golding gives B.L.M. (Black Lives Matter) a track which covers three generations of dealing with racism after the Windrush. His father facing the ‘No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish Slogans, his own journey through school being labelled ‘ black bastard’, then his experiences in the USA and the N***** word. The thing is the lyrics are all layered over a fuckin ace Funkadelic type tune that has your head nodding and your arse wiggling.

Vote For Me is vintage Specials. Taking a crack at politicians with intelligence, it’s haunting and has the Ghost Town comparisons which I reckon has been done on purpose just to fuck the purists off! A brilliant track that takes me back but has been polished by the brilliant musicians on board.
This next track is a pleasant surprise being a Fun Boy Three track. A cracking rework of The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum, it’s a proper slow burning ska/reggae head nodder and the lyrics are as relevant today as they were back in the day. Think about it…

Breaking Point is dark and has a haunting fairground feel reminiscent of The Good The Bad & The Queen, loads of oompah shit and swirling keyboards. Lines like “Social media is a trend that’ll send us all around the bend” gives you the theme of Hall’s lyrics, harking on the world going wrong.
Blam Blam Fever is the last cover and a rehash of the original Valentines number and is as old skool as The Specials get, addressing gun crime which is as relevant as ever in this climate.

10 Commandments is a spoken word piece by Saffiyah Khan (Specials T-shirt donned activist who had a face of with the EDL in Birmingham). A trademark Panter bassline and smooth groove blended in with a mix of lyrics about womens rights, sexism (Prince Buster anyone) and being a woman in 2018.

Embarrassed By You is a ska reggae rant duet with Golding and Hall, covering knife crime, hoodies, moped gangs and misguided youth spilling on our streets. Take the line “We never fought for freedom for nasty little brutes like you, to come and unwork the work we do” Says it all in one sentence….
Terry Hall then tells us a tale of his own battles in an Ian / Baxter Dury like tale story on The Life And Times (Of A Man Called Depression). A stark blues reggae number which has some  Ray Manzarek style Riders On The Storm keyboards going on to give it a dark feel whilst retaining that Specials sound.

Album closer We Sell Hope will probably be the next single, top drawer ska tune that made this band so close to my heart. More meaningful commentary about our country 37 years on from that magic they spread but made for these times.
Like I said, there are many people who will shun this album for reasons of their own. I say get a grip and embrace the effort these guys have made to make a brilliant album that keeps them grounded yet retaining what they aimed to do in the first place. Give us a message through music…

Tour dates:
Mon April 15 2019 – BOURNEMOUTH O2 Academy Bournemouth
Tue April 16 2019 – PORTSMOUTH Guildhall
Wed April 17 2019 – BRIGHTON Dome
Fri April 19 2019 – PLYMOUTH Pavilions
Sat April 20 2019 – EXETER University Great Hall
Sun April 21 2019 – CARDIFF University Great Hall
Tue April 23 2019 – BLACKBURN King Georges Hall
Wed April 24 2019 – LEICESTER De Montfort Hall
Fri April 26 2019 – BIRMINGHAM O2 Academy Birmingham
Sat April 27 2019 – LIVERPOOL Eventim Olympia
Sun April 28 2019 – MANCHESTER Academy
Tue April 30 2019 – LEEDS O2 Academy Leeds
Wed May 01 2019 – CARLISLE Sands Centre
Thu May 02 2019 – GLASGOW Barrowland
Sat May 04 2019 – NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE O2 Academy Newcastle
Sun May 05 2019 – MIDDLESBROUGH Town Hall
Mon May 06 2019 – SCARBOROUGH Spa
Wed May 08 2019 – SCUNTHORPE Baths Hall
Thu May 09 2019 – YORK Barbican
Fri May 10 2019 – SHEFFIELD O2 Academy Sheffield
Sun May 12 2019 – CAMBRIDGE Corn Exchange
Mon May 13 2019 – SOUTHEND Cliffs Pavilion
Tue May 14 2019 – MARGATE Winter Gardens
Thu May 16 2019 – LONDON O2 Academy Brixton.

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