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The Specials - Encore (Album Review)

Tuesday, 05 February 2019 Written by Jacob Brookman

The Specials’ first official album since 1980 is a rich collection of eclectic pop that covers funk, ska and reggae with great energy and verve.

Though just three of the original band are present on ‘Encore’—Terry Hall, Lynval Golding and Horace Panter—the album hits many of the group’s original marks, talking about mental health, race relations and political dislocation with intelligence and integrity, while the 2-Tone sound has the same hypnotic chunkiness that brought them to the forefront of British music all those years ago.

Some of the strongest songs here are covers. Opener Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys is an Eddy Grant-penned track that works superbly with the unaffected English vocal of Hall, despite a very American-sounding funk arrangement.

Elsewhere, 10 Commandments (a feminist riff on a sexist Prince Buster song) is delivered with biting anger, here voiced by guest vocalist Saffiyah Khan, who is widely known for facing down the EDL at a Birmingham protest in 2017.

The track is a sprawling spoken word reggae jam akin to their global hit Ghost Town and its follow up The Boiler, a harrowing rape narrative fronted by Rhoda Dakar. Though the track updates the sound with intellectual honesty, Khan’s bars dance right on the edge of being brilliant and cringeworthy: “Is that what it takes to impress a bloke whose brain is made up of curvy size zeros and anti-gravity tits?” It’s the most hard-hitting and memorable track on the album, and also likely to divide opinion.

One of the reasons that the Specials have been through so many iterations, most notably the Special AKA, is the format of the band. Conceptually, they are a musical collective, which should allow for fluid and harmonious personnel changes, but they are also a highly defined brand. This has proven a delicate, occasionally volatile musical idea to manage, and ‘Encore’ maintains the balance superbly.

Additionally, they are a band who wear their influences on their sleeves. There is an electric piano run on The Life and Times of a Man (Called Depression) that is almost a direct lift of Ray Manzarek’s keys work on Riders on the Storm. In the Specials’ hands, this never feels derivative or copycat—more the result of a group that acts as a kind of old-school covers band (or ‘dance band’ as they were termed), but who have such personality that they retain artistic integrity.

While the album is excellent, it really promotes them as a live act. One imagines a Specials gig in 2019 is just as affecting as it was in 1979. Or as Hall puts it, just as “horribly relevant”.

The Specials Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Thu April 11 2019 - DUBLIN Olympia Theatre
Fri April 12 2019 - DUBLIN Olympia Theatre
Sat April 13 2019 - DUBLIN Olympia Theatre
Mon April 15 2019 - BOURNEMOUTH O2 Academy Bournemouth
Tue April 16 2019 - PORTSMOUTH Portsmouth Guildhall
Wed April 17 2019 - BRIGHTON Brighton Dome
Fri April 19 2019 - PLYMOUTH Plymouth Pavilions
Sat April 20 2019 - EXETER Great Hall, Exeter
Sun April 21 2019 - CARDIFF Cardiff University Students Union
Tue April 23 2019 - BLACKBURN King George's 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 Manchester Academy
Tue April 30 2019 - LEEDS O2 Academy Leeds
Wed May 01 2019 - CARLISLE 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 Scarborough Spa Grand Hall
Wed May 08 2019 - SCUNTHORPE Baths Hall
Thu May 09 2019 - YORK York Barbican
Fri May 10 2019 - SHEFFIELD O2 Academy Sheffield
Sun May 12 2019 - CAMBRIDGE Cambridge Corn Exchange
Mon May 13 2019 - SOUTHEND Cliffs Pavilion
Tue May 14 2019 - MARGATE Margate Winter Gardens
Thu May 16 2019 - LONDON O2 Academy Brixton
Fri May 17 2019 - LONDON O2 Academy Brixton
Sat May 18 2019 - LONDON O2 Forum Kentish Town
Sat July 20 2019 - NOTTINGHAM Wollaton Park

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