By Pete Chambers
Encore by The Specials
So finally after all the talk, conjecture and rumour, we have a new Specials album to be released next year to celebrate 40 Years of the iconic 2-Tone label.
I was one of the first to hear it, so it feels good to finally be able to talk about it.
Of course, there are those that will not be joining the party, some because Specials founder Jerry Dammers is not involved, some because the band has effectively become a trio (Hall, Golding and Panter). That’s a shame because any new offering should be judged on the music it presents.
Here in my opinion, Coventry’s finest are walking a tightrope that sees them balancing new sounds with the sounds of old, hopefully with no major falls. Did they pull it off? Well lets dive in track by track.
The album opens with a funky tip of the hat to The Equals, Britain’s first multicultural band and a cover of their hit ‘Black Skinned Blue-Eyed Boys’, an anthem to mixed race, very much the theme of this album, no surprise that The Specials are still fighting the fight.
Further in that vein is ‘B.L.M. (Black Lives Matter)’ – Lynval Golding telling his story of arriving in England and the racial abuse he suffered, something that continues in the land of the free where he now lives, “Is that all you see, the colour of my skin, welcome to my world.”
‘Vote for Me’. originally the working title of the album, gets much more into the Ska groove, effectively the bridge from Ghost Town to this new album. I can see this becoming a live favourite. Terry’s vocals sound so strong throughout, and the total second-to-none musicianship from all as you would expect after all these years.
‘The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum’.. If the Specials had continued this was a strong contender to be the next single.
Terry and Lynval recorded it as The Fun Boy Three with Neville Staple (who also does a great version of this). So it’s good that they chose to cover their own song.
The arrangements on this album have been intricately crafted and this track is no exception, Nikolaj Torp Larsen’s keyboard playing reminding me so much of the great Mike Garson Bowie’s one time keyboard player. By the way, Nikolaj Torp Larsen also co-wrote and co-produced this album alongside Hall, Golding and Panter.
More politics as we move to the dangers of the internet with ‘Breaking Point’, with Terry being Terry making a joyous swipe at it all. Then just as you think that this band may have forgotten their Trojan roots, we have ‘Blam Blam Fever’, a clever cover of The Valentines’ ‘Gun Fever’.
So next up, The Specials are legs akimbo musically speaking, one foot in the past, and one very much in the round about now. ‘The Ten Commandments’ is an answer to Prince Buster’s misogynist ‘Ten Commandments of Man’ with the voice from the lady who famously stood up to the EDL, Saffiyah Khan.
Defiant and in your face (of course), it’s so important that this is on here. Yes, The Specials are still relevant.
‘Embarrassed By You’ points an angry finger at the hooded youth (does that make the Specials angry old men?), with the vocals superbly shared by Lynval and Terry, another track guaranteed to be a skanking favourite.
‘The Life And Times (Of A Man Called Depression)’ is a Terry Hall part confessional part swipe at those who would ask a person with depression to ‘Cheer Up’. Yes, its finally good to hear him address this, he refuses to be defined as a human being by the chains of depression, and those who love to say, ‘he doesn’t smile much’, well, this one is for you.
The song is an album highlight and has classic written all over it. ‘We Sell Hope’ is just a great track that finishes this set off perfectly. Like Pandora’s box, in the final shot we are left with hope. Once again Terry Hall shines through, and that is it, this new journey ends.
This album has lot to live up to, it was a long time coming and expectancy is high.
Did they get it right? I believe they did. Each track has its own personality, its own reason to be on here. They are still fighting the fight, still making us dance and still asking questions.
There will be some that won’t buy into this (already some hate it, but have yet to even hear it). But thousands will love it, and to them it’s the dawning of a new era, but like the Specials of old, that was so last century.
Tour dates were announced on Tuesday with tickets going on general sale on Friday November 2.
(The album is on Island Records via Universal Music, released 1/2/19 also on available on download. The CD version comes with a bonus Best of The Specials Live CD).
The Coventry Music Museum celebrates its 5th birthday on Saturday November 3, with guest of honour singer songwriter and producer Matt Cattell.
Come and join us for as Sounding Off at 12 noon.