After a long wait of 37 years since their last record, The Specials have released a new album. Spearheading their legendary 2-Tone label, influencing a ton of ska bands, and putting out the classic “Ghost Town,” the group is held in high regard for everything that they have done.
The band is made up of three original members, singer Terry Hall, singer/guitarist Lynval Golding, and bassist Horace Panter, and several new members, Tim Smart (trombone), Drew Stansall (saxophone, flute), Nikolaj Torp Larsen (keyboards), Steve Cradock (lead guitar), Pablo Mandleson (trumpet), and Gary Powell (drums).
After hearing their amazing, self-titled debut album way back in the early 80s, I knew that I had to hear this one. Well, things start off with their cover of the Equals’ “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys,” and what a shock it is! The song is more 70s funk than ska, but it’s not too bad, just not at all what I was expecting. The second song “B.L.M.,” is a spoken word song over more 70s funk. It talks about Lynval and his father’s racial slurs and feelings; great lyrics, but… ummmm, not something that musically grabbed me and I’m getting scared, but it is a fantastic and biting song about race.
Finally on the third song, “Vote For Me,” the band gets into a sweet, slow ska beat, and I feel better and start to sway along with the groove. Next they cover Hall’s and Golding’s song from Fun Boy Three, “The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum,” and with a ska beat, they make it sound great. Slow and relaxed is the way that the next group of songs plays out, a lot different than their first album, but more in the style of More Specials or “Ghost Town.”
“The Ten Commandments featuring Saffiyah Khan” is another spoken word track with anti-sexism lyrics that take to task Prince Buster’s misogynist “Ten Commandments Of Man.” “The Life And Times (Of A Man Called Depression)” Is another funky, 70s track that reminds me a bit of the Doors’ “Riders Of The Storm” but has more poignant lyrics about depression and makes you think. Slowing things down even more, they end things off with “We Sell Hope,” which offers up a bit of an upbeat idea that things can get better if we try.
Well, after all these years, the Specials have delivered an album that is both interesting but not what I was expecting. More 70s funk, spoken word, and slow ska than I would have ever expected from them, but it’s still good to have them back. If you have been a fan for all these years, you will find a lot to like, but if you are new to the band, you may want to start at the beginning and work your way to this one. All I can say is, encore!