Let’s be completely honest here, the world has gone up s***’s creek recently. Politicians haven’t got a clue what they’re doing. World leaders act like temper tantrum-throwing toddlers. The slow realisation that the human race has murdered the planet it lives on. It may seem as though all is lost, but The Specials are here to fight back.
The band’s numbers have certainly dwindled over the last few years. Jerry Dammers, Neville Staple and Roddy ‘Radiation’ Byers quit since the band’s 2009 reunion, and John Bradbury sadly passed away in 2015. But their resilience and relevance have been proven again, and the end product is new release ‘Encore’. Produced by founding members Terry Hall, Lynval Golding and Horace Panter, with the help of Danish producer Torp Larsen, it isn’t something to be overlooked.
A cover of The Equals’ 1973 track ‘Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys’ opens the doors. It breathes a refreshingly new life into the song as jazzy, intoxicating riffs charge through a gentle drum beat whilst the bass has full control. For a cover, it’s fantastic. However, for a band known for their socio-political commentary, the song seems horribly outdated with its hippy-esque views on race. It’s a good start, but very unexpected.
That is, thankfully, the only mishap this album has, as the boys delve deeper into what they do best. In ‘B.L.M.’ – the acronym for ‘Black Lives Matter’- Lynval Golding tells the story of his father’s experience of Wind Rush and racism in 1950s Britain. The spoken-word approach allows the lyrics to cut through the music, highlighting issues both past and present. The production sounds like something Nile Rodgers is credited for, blending disco, funk and ska to create a subtle background. The track is brimming with authenticity, so perhaps it could have made a better opening track.
No one is spared from worthy criticism on ‘Encore’, especially not the Tories. ‘Vote For Me’ is a brutal takedown of the party disguised as a gentle Ska-Reggae track. Covering everything from poverty to Wind Rush deportations, it directly addresses unsuspecting Tory listeners: “You sit and wait for us to elect you, but all we’ll do is reject you”. The production is atmospheric and ironically relaxing, an intended juxtaposition that works brilliantly. The Specials certainly have been there and seen it all.
The most surprising track on ‘Encore’, and the obvious highlight, is ‘Ten Commandments’. Saffiyah Khan, the activist who was photographed facing down an EDL protester in Birmingham while wearing a Specials shirt, lends her worldly outlooks to the song. The result is an empowering track that shines common sense on the world’s apparently most ungraspable concepts, including catcalling, rape culture and ‘asking for it’, and man-made feminine ideals. It oozes punk and should become the anthem for the next generation.
The Specials aren’t just commenting on the outside world, as ‘The Life and Times (Of A Man Called Depression)’ shows. Terry Hall is laying his life experiences bare here, talking openly about his depression and bi-polar disorder. The song is a fountain of understanding for those struggling with mental health and those failing to comprehend that struggle. It’s raw and direct: “I refuse to succumb to what your vision of happy should look like”. This track allows the entire album to become well-rounded and is vital to the social discussion about mental health.
This album has everything and gives everything. Records like this, from bands like The Specials, are so necessary right now. It’s difficult to think about dealing with the world without them.