Title - 'Encore'
Artist - The Specials
For those not in the know, the history of one of the most beloved SKA UK bands, The Specials is a long and jagged one, that's for sure.
Also known as The Special AKA, The Specials are an English 2 Tone and ska revival band formed in 1977 in Coventry.
After some early changes, the first stable lineup of the group consisted of Terry Hall and Neville Staple on vocals, Lynval Golding and Roddy Radiation on guitars, Horace Panter on bass, Jerry Dammers on keyboards, John Bradbury on drums, and Dick Cuthell and Rico Rodriguez on horns.
As I'm sure you already know, their music combines a danceable ska and rocksteady beat with punk's energy and attitude. However, lyrically, they present a more focused and informed political and social stance.
The band wore mod-style 1960s period rude boy outfits (pork pie hats, tonic and mohair suits and loafers) and in 1980, the song 'Too Much Too Young', the lead track on their The Special AKA Live! EP, reached #1 in the UK Singles Chart.
In 1981, the recession-themed single 'Ghost Town' also hit #1 in the UK.
After seven consecutive UK Top 10 singles between 1979 and 1981, main lead vocalists Hall and Staple, along with guitarist Golding, left to form Fun Boy Three.
Continuing as The Special AKA (a name they used frequently on earlier Specials releases), a substantially revised Specials line-up issued new material through 1984, including the top 10 UK hit single 'Free Nelson Mandela.'
The group reformed in 1993, and have continued to perform and record with varying line-ups (but without Dammers).
Now the British 2 Tone icons The Specials have announced their first album of new music in 20 years. Rather perfectly entitled Encore, the new album is out now via Island Records / Universal Music Group and it follows 2001’s Conquering Ruler.
It also features the group’s first original material since 1998’s Guilty ’til Proven Innocent!
But, more intriguingly to us fans of the band, Encore also marks the return of original lead vocalist Terry Hall, who entered the studio with the band for the first time since 1981’s classic ‘Ghost Town’!
Founding members Lynval Golding and Horace Panter are also involved, with drummer Kenrick Rowe and Ocean Colour Scene guitarist Steve Cradock rounding out the line-up.
1. 'Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys'
3. 'Vote For Me'
4. 'The Lunatics'
5. 'Breaking Point'
6. 'Blam Blam Fever'
7. '10 Commandments'
8. 'Embarrassed By You'
9. 'The Life And Times (Of A Man Called Depression)'
10 'We Sell Hope'
While eight of the songs are originals, two are covers: an opening rendition of The Equals’ ‘Black Skinned Blue-Eyed Boys’ (here transformed into a disco funk number) and a take on The Valentines’ gun crime epidemic cut ‘Blam Blam Fever’.
I mean, please, please believe me when I say the old, classic, still longed for Specials essence is truly here throughout this quite brilliant new album.
Hall's vocals may not be as youthful, as piercingly angst ridden as it was back in the early '80s, but listening to tracks such as the foot-tappin' ebb and flow of the 'Ghost Town'-esque 'Vote For Me' and the flashback beauty 'The Lunatics' (a for-the-fans reworking of the big FB3 hit 'The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum'), is like stepping into the wayback machine of life's greatest sounds; all now brought forth with a more mellowed out approach.
On 'B.L.M.' (Black Lives Matter), Golding comes to the fore on a track that covers three generations of dealing with racism after the Windrush scandal. 'Embarrassed By You' is a ska/reggae duet for Golding and Hall to get lost within.
Lyrically chock full of ongoing street worries such as knife crime, hoodies, moped gangs and misguided youths, lines such as "We never fought for freedom for nasty little brutes like you, to come and unwork the work we do” say it all.
There's also their response to the 1967 Prince Buster track of the same name, the effervescent spoken word '10 Commandments,' which simply oozes perfectly everything that is great about The Specials within those three minutes.
With the original a very sexist viewpoint of how a woman should be when in a relationship with a man, Hall along with Saffiyah Khan (the activist who wore a Specials t-shirt when she went face-to-face with the EDL in Birmingham in 2017) have "reimagined" some of the lyrics to reflect more of todays societal beliefs re: female strength.
The album rounds out with Hall's own personal, and starkly honest storytelling on 'The Life And Times (Of A Man Called Depression).' Recounting his own battles in a very open, lyrical manner, the stoic reggae/blues cut is also one of their best here.
The magnificent, eye-opening (on todays society) album closer 'We Sell Hope' rounds the album out perfectly, unless you are anything like me and you simply hit Play and listen to it all over again (and again).
Hall, Golding, and Panter produced the new 10-track album alongside touring keyboardist Nikolaj Torp Larsen.
Also, there is a Special Edition CD edition also just released of Encore that includes a live album called The Best of The Specials Live.
CD Purchase Link