The Specials’ comeback album ‘Encore’ is truly fantastic. In fact it’s something of a miracle, with 18 years worth of studio silence and the best part of 40 years of the legendary group fracturing, fragmenting and reforming time and again.
Comebacks more often than not fall flat on their face, with bands either showing they’re completely past it, ending up rehashing past glories, or a combination of the two. Not here though. ‘Encore’ is cuttingly relevant, innovative, immensely enjoyable and varied; and blessed with sense and wisdom.
Where some ageing stars, literally and figuratively, pull the spandex back on and only end up showing off their beer guts; The Specials have donned their suits and ties and look as sharp as they always have.
‘Encore’ takes you through a whirlwind of emotions. One minute you feel like owning the dancefloor (‘Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys’), and the next you’re making plans to smash the establishment (pretty much every song on the record).
Politics and social justice has always been at the beating heart of The Specials’ music, so there was never really any danger of them leaving it behind, but it was still an incredibly brave choice to put the bit between their teeth and take on the many, many problems the world is burdened with today.
Clearly there was nothing to be concerned about though, as The Specials pull it off superbly. The nail couldn’t have been hit on the head any cleaner. As the namesake track on the record says: “The lunatics have taken over the asylum.”
Think of a political talking point and The Specials will have covered it on ‘Encore’. Racism? There’s Lynval Golding’s own unfiltered personal experience on ‘B.L.M’. Feminism?There’s the dark humour and iron fist of 21-year-old activist Saffiyah Khan on ’10 Commandments’. Gun crime, depression, the current political class; it’s all there and it’s all managed with class, wit and logic.
Lyrically, ‘Encore’ is a marvel. On every single one of the 10 tracks there are bundles of standout lines, and there’s a balance of genuine poetry (‘The Life And Times’, ‘We Sell Hope’) and effortlessly catchy hooks (‘Blam Blam Fever’, ‘Embarrassed By You’). It shouldn’t be surprise that a band as storied as The Specials can still write incredible songs, but you can’t help but be amazed at how their collective finger is so accurately on the pulse.
Musically ‘Encore’ is equally as impressive. As much as I love ska and two-tone, it can be a little on the one-dimensional side, but it certainly isn’t here. The Specials have left the raucous Monkeys Mans and Nite Klubs of their youths behind, and rightly so. The pace of the record for the most part is quite relaxed, allowing the masters to do what they do best. It’s mature, considered and wonderfully executed.
‘Encore’ isn’t just ska either. Some of the liveliest tracks (‘Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys’ and ‘B.L.M’) have more of a disco flavour to them, which comes across fantastically well. It shouldn’t need to be said really, but every instrument is played to perfection across the record and there are some brilliant compositions. Terry Hall also deserves plenty of credit for his vocals, which sound as good as ever.
Suffice to say; The Specials have well and truly returned. There may be key members still missing from the band, and it’s unlikely the original and best lineup will ever reunite, but this record proves beyond all doubt that there is still more than enough magic left in this legendary group. ‘Encore’ is a joy to listen to.