ALBUM RELEASE: ‘Encore’ – The Specials
WORDS BY MARK HUGHES
There was a real sense of anticipation leading up to the release of the first, The Specials, studio album for thirty-two years. When a band makes only two albums but puts an indelible stamp through the core of your young body, then you wonder where a 32-year hiatus will lead studio album number three. Mainly, as a pessimist, will it be a disappointment after all this time of waiting? But when you play the first track and think “yep this is cool”, the second track “oh I like this”, the third track, the released single, so you know it and love it already – and so it goes on. Smiling, foot tapping and moving to “da riddim” throughout the album.
This experience reminds me of when my 13-year-old self listened to More Specials, for the first time, and I discovered that they were more than just a revival ska band. Just like the first album introduced me to my love for Jamaican music, with its mix of originals and covers, then the second album opened other new influences for me. Songs such as the cover of Rex Garvin’s Sock it to em JB was my introduction to American R&B.
This new album, Encore, has the feel of both previous studio albums; politically driven, topical lyrics and authentic grooves. It also becomes personal with Terry Hall baring his soul on The Life and Times (of a Man Called Depression), which is both sad and most beautifully presented and Lynval Golding delivering a hard-hitting commentary, on the track BLM (Black Lives Matter), of how he and his family struggled to be accepted; experiencing racism, hatred and ignorance when invited by the UK to emigrate to England, on the Windrush.
The mixture of funk and ska is evident, as incredible covers by The Equals (Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys) and The Valentines (Blam Blam Fever), followed by an awesome alternative version of Ten Commandments, seen through the eyes of guest vocalist and activist Saffyiah Khan, who delivers a vitriolic feminist/anti-feminist comeback to Prince Busters misogynistic original, with the heavy rhythm provided by a version of Dawn Penn’s dancehall classic You Don’t Love Me. There are, of course, some powerful originals of their own in the mix too, such as the cleverly scripted and carny grooved Breaking Point, which tackles the cataclysm of social media and global politics that provides the most powerful line on the album; “with the help of God and a few marines, we’ll blow this place to smithereens.”
As always The Specials serve up education in their messages, but with the rhythm throughout being so mesmeric that political delivery and the slap around the face to the human race is almost subliminal at times. All of a sudden the message just hits you smack bang between the eyes!
Torp Larsen’s intelligent production takes the essence of Jerry Dammers to create a very authentic representation of the Dammers moniker, as demonstrated in studio album number 2 (and probably the self-titled first album as well, even though production is credited to Elvis Costello). With only three of the original seven members in the current line up (Terry Hall, Lynval Golding, and Horace Panter) then the authenticity is to be considered even more remarkable. If it looks like The Specials, quacks like The Specials and sounds like The Specials, then it probably is The Specials.
With my pessimism happily shot down and my disappointment replaced by euphoria, then I can gladly report that I’m feeling like my 13-year-old self once again by playing the album over and over and over until a parent tells me to “Give it a bloody rest” and at my age this isn’t gonna happen any time soon.