Monday, May 18, 2015

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE SPECIALS - MORE SPECIALS/THE SPECIAL AKA - IN THE STUDIO




All three original Specials albums have been reissued as deluxe, 2-disc sets. The gem is the first release, 1979's self-titled album, packed with hits, dance numbers and brilliant ska covers. Also, the group's political bent was perfectly mixed with its joyful sounds, a potent mix.

The following albums both have problems, but also have much to enjoy. For 1980's More Specials, leader Jerry Dammers started experimenting with new sounds, interesting but a radical departure. He developed an interest in Muzak and lounge sounds, and started incorporating that into Jamaican music. It was a lot more challenging than the ska-punk blend they had been doing just the year before. There were some moments of lightness, including Enjoy Yourself (It's later than you think) and the mixed tribute to James Bond and James Brown called Sock It To 'Em J.B. but memorable classics aren't found here.

Instead, you can get them on the bonus disc. In a rare occurrence for deluxe sets, the better part is disc two. That's where the singles released around that time are found: Rat Race, the Dylan cover Maggie's Farm, and the U.K. #1, Ghost Town. Along with some Peel Sessions and excellent b-sides, you'll want to spin this, prove that the band was still firing, it was Dammers that was complicating things.

Most of the band had it at that point, with Terry Hall, Neville Staple and Lynval Golding leaving to form Fun Boy Three. Dammers started making a new group, reverting to a previous name, The Special AKA. Remaining members left, new voices and players came in, and three years passed before the release of In The Studio. The results were more tempered musically, but full of sharp politics, just like the old days. Especially strong was Nelson Mandela, which became a rallying cry for the anti-apartheid movement, Dammers an unlikely rally leader.

Disc two is less valuable here, although it does include the bleak single The Boiler, recorded with vocalist Rhoda Dakar, about date rape. But half the 12 cuts are merely instrumental versions. Still, I'm betting most people don't know the In The Studio album, so it's worth it to pick it up.

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