New music by The Specials is always reason to celebrate. Especially when they’ve released new stuff approximately once every other generation!
I’ll leave it to those who have stronger feelings than me to decide whether this incarnation of the band counts as more or less authentic than the band that last recorded in the studio.
I can tell you that my ears hear a band revitalized, with a lot to say and play about. Sure the album is half new originals, half covers and half live versions of old classics (math was never my strong suit), but in a way, hearing the live cuts only makes the originals even more impressive. They stand up quite well to the old stuff. Even if Terry Hall can’t really hit the notes he once reached, it’s a blast to hear him singing at all. I believe it’s been 35 plus years since he recorded with The Specials. And no Jerry Dammers surely is a loss, but times change and personnel change. I mean, three original members is two more than the most recent Lynyrd Skynyrd reunion tour! (No offense to LS, who deserve to be honored with many a song in these digital pages.)
Several of the new cuts on Encoreare vital additions to the catalog, especially “Blam Blam Fever,” and The Equals’ cover, “Black Skin Blue-Eyed Boys.” But what stood out the most for me is a song with a guest vocalist — Saffiyah Khan — who’d never recorded before in her life! I’m referring to the song “Ten Commandments,” which I don’t think could work without her youthful, insistent voice. The band had first learned about Saffiyah in the news, when she calmly approached racist marchersin a photo that became viral.
From gun-violence to racism to corruption in politics, to feminism, The Specials still have a lot to say and I personally hope this is the beginning of a new era for the band, as there is an inspired energy in most of these songs and I say keep going while the iron is hot.
(Song recommendation by Steve Goldberg)