The Specials released ‘Encore,’ their first LP w/ Terry Hall since 1980 (album review), announce North American tour
2-Tone ska icons The Specials only made two albums before splitting into different factions -- Fun Boy Three and The Special AKA -- but their shadow remains long. For good and bad: they're a direct influence on so much terrible/mediocre ska music since, you almost forget how amazing they were, and how restless their creative spirit was in their short time together. Whether you consider this to actually be The Specials or not -- singer Terry Hall, vocalist/guitarist Lynval Golding and bassist Horace Panter are the only original members and, for many, it's not The Specials without Jerry Dammers, no discussion -- Encore is probably the most legit release under their name since 1980's More Specials (their last with Hall), and the fact that it's Hall's first album of any kind in 16 years makes this notable on its own.
Verdict: this album's pretty good! (I've come around from an initial first listen reaction of "shrug" to appreciating it a lot more.) A few qualifiers, though. For those who just wish they'd go back to sounding like "Do the Dog" and "Nite Klub" of the first album, you are going to be disappointed. However, those of you who liked the underrated second album, More Specials, Jerry Dammers' jazzy The Special AKA and Terry Hall & Lynval Golding's other group, Fun Boy Three, will be pleasantly surprised, and there are some genuinely great moments mixed in amongst the merely fine.
The album opens with a cover of The Equals' "Black Skinned Blue Eyed Boy" that is very close to the original's funky arrangement -- there has definitely never been a Specials song that sounds like this -- so much so that you may wonder what's the point. But it sets up the next song, "BLM" ("Black Lives Matter"), where Lynval Golding traces his life, and personal experiences of racism, from Jamaica to London to America, all against a similarly funky, clavinet-driven backing track. It's a great, mostly spoken vocal performance from Golding, and a truly affecting song.
From there, they pull things back into more familiar Specials territory with "Vote For Me," a cynical look at the Powers That Be that deliberately echoes the original lineup's final single, "Ghost Town" with its opening chords, detuned cocktail jazz piano and eerie trombone (RIP Rico). Politics and social issues have always been central to The Specials' message, and it's all over Encore, like on "Breaking Point," which checks the global temperature (actual and political) to a tune of almost circus-like ska. There's also "Embarrassed by You" which takes on Brexit and the rise of fascism and features great call-and-response vocals from Golding and Staples. ("We never fought for freedom for nasty little brutes like you!") Elsewhere on the record, Hall takes a frank look at mental health on the loungey "The Life And Times (Of A Man Called Depression)," while "We Sell Hope," one of the best songs on the album, is a cautiously optimistic track with an orchestral backing straight out of Fun Boy Three's dark second album, Waiting.
Speaking of, Encore also contains a cover of FB3's debut single, "The Lunatics (Have Taken Over the Asylum)," which is as potent, lyrically, as it was in 1981 but here also feels like an "up yours" aimed at Dammers, who has refused to take part any of the reunions. (It would be hard to imagine Dammers saying "Hey Terry and Lynval, let's cover that song you quit the band to do.") Unfortunately, the arrangement here pales to the original's paranoid, tribal atmosphere and is a real missed target. It's a rare bum note, as far as production and arrangements go, on an album that otherwise rarely misses a beat, and sounds exactly like you want it to.
The best song on the album is also the most unusual and unexpected. "10 Commandments" features a fiery lead vocal from activist Saffiyah Khan who offers a point-by-point rebuttal of ska icon Prince Buster's misogynistic original. (It should be noted The Specials' covered Buster's "Too Hot" on their 1979 debut.) "Thou shall not listen to Prince Buster or any other man offering kindly advice on matters of my own well being," she cooly seethes over a spaced-out dub groove. "I shall not be the icing on your cake, and I shall not be the candy on your arm." If the album had a few more moments like this and played it less safe, we'd truly have something special. You can stream it below.
Meanwhile, The Specials will be on tour this year celebrating the new record and the 40th anniversary of their first single. They've just announced North American dates, which surround their appearance at Punk Rock Bowling in May and include a NYC stop at Brooklyn Steel on June 14. Tickets for Brooklyn Steel are on sale now.
All tour dates are listed below.
The SPECIALS - 40TH ANNIVERSARY TOUR
MAR 30 Ancienne Belgique Saturday, 8:00PM Brussels, Belgium
MAR 31 den Atelier Sunday, 8:00PM Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
APR 02 Grosse Freiheit 36 Tuesday, 7:00PM Hamburg, Germany
APR 05 Paradiso Grote Zaal Friday, 8:30PM Nieuw-amsterdam, Netherlands
APR 06 Paradiso Grote Zaal Saturday, 8:30PM Nieuw-amsterdam, Netherlands
APR 08 LA CIGALE Monday, 8:00PM Paris, France
APR 11 Olympia Theatre Thursday, 7:00PM Dublin, Ireland
APR 12 Olympia Theatre Friday, 7:00PM Dublin, Ireland
APR 13 Olympia Theatre Saturday, 7:00PM Dublin, Ireland
APR 15 O2 Academy Bournemouth Monday, 7:00PM Bournemouth, United Kingdom
APR 16 Portsmouth Guildhall Tuesday, 7:00PM Portsmouth, United Kingdom
APR 17 Brighton Dome Wednesday, 7:00PM Brighton, United Kingdom
APR 19 Plymouth Pavilions Friday, 6:30PM Plymouth, United Kingdom
APR 20 The Great Hall, Exeter Saturday, 7:00PM Exeter, United Kingdom
APR 21 Cardiff University Students' Union Sunday, 7:00PM Cardiff, United Kingdom
APR 23 King George's Hall Tuesday, 7:00PM Blackburn, United Kingdom
APR 24 De Montfort Hall Wednesday, 12:00AM Leicester, United Kingdom
APR 26 O2 Academy Birmingham Friday, 7:00PM Birmingham, United Kingdom
APR 27 Liverpool Olympia Saturday, 12:00AM Liverpool, United Kingdom
APR 28 Manchester Academy Sunday, 7:00PM Manchester, United Kingdom
APR 30 O2 Academy Leeds Tuesday, 7:00PM Leeds, United Kingdom
MAY 01 Carlisle Sands Centre Wednesday, 7:00PM Carlisle, United Kingdom
MAY 02 Barrowland Ballroom Thursday, 12:00AM Glasgow, United Kingdom
MAY 04 O2 Academy Newcastle Saturday, 6:30PM Newcastle Upon Tyne, United Kingdom
MAY 05 Middlesbrough Town Hall Sunday, 12:00AM Middlesbrough, United Kingdom
MAY 06 Scarborough Spa Grand Hall Monday, 7:00PM Scarborough, United Kingdom
MAY 08 Baths Hall Wednesday, 6:30PM Scunthorpe, United Kingdom
MAY 09 York Barbican Thursday, 12:00AM York, United Kingdom
MAY 10 O2 Academy 2 Sheffield Friday, 6:30PM Sheffield, United Kingdom
MAY 12 Cambridge Corn Exchange Sunday, 7:00PM Cambridge, United Kingdom
MAY 13 Cliffs Pavilion Monday, 12:00AM Southend-on-sea, United Kingdom
MAY 14 Winter Gardens Tuesday, 12:00AM Margate, United Kingdom
MAY 16 O2 Academy Brixton Thursday, 7:00PM London, United Kingdom
MAY 17 O2 Academy Brixton Friday, 7:00PM London, United Kingdom
5/22 - Vancouver, BC @ Commodore Ballroom
5/23 - Seattle, WA @ The Showbox
5/24 - Portland, OR @ Crystal Ballroom
5/25 - Oakland, CA @Fox Theater
5/27 - Las Vegas, NV @ Punk Rock Bowling & Music Festival
5/28 - Anaheim, CA @ House of Blues
5/30 - San Diego, CA @ House of Blues
5/31 - San Diego, CA @ House of Blues
6/01 - Los Angeles, CA @ The Novo
6/03 - Phoenix, AZ @ The Van Buren
6/05 - Denver, CO @ Ogden Theatre
6/07 - Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue
6/08 - Chicago, IL @ Vic Theatre
6/10 - Silver Spring, MD @ The Fillmore
6/11 - Philadelphia, PA @ Theatre of Living Arts
6/14 - Brooklyn, NY @ Brooklyn Steel
6/15- Boston, MA @ House of Blues
6/17 - Montreal, QB @ Corona Theatre
6/18 - Toronto, ON @ Danforth Music Hall
6/19 - Toronto, ON @ Danforth Music Hall
JUL 19 Lloyds Ampitheatre Friday, 7:00PM Bristol, United Kingdom
JUL 20 Wollaton Park Saturday, 12:00PM Nottingham, United Kingdom