THE SPECIALS The Specials (Chrysalis)
Something of an unusual choice for Capitol’s From The Vaults vinyl reissue series, this latest incarnation of The Specials’ debut is pressed in the EU but uses the US version’s tracklisting (adding the band’s debut single “Gangsters” as a bonus track) and cover art. It’s also conspicuously the least disappointing-sounding record I’ve yet heard from that series, for what that’s worth.
Spreading a multiracial message of inclusion in what must’ve been pretty riven times in this country (a post-punk Coventry equivalent of Sly & The Family Stone, perhaps), the album includes several covers of songs from the golden age of Jamaican ska - albeit sufficiently updated that they sounds contemporaneous with the band’s own material. For instance, Wikipedia tells me that “Do The Dog” is a rearranged Rufus Thomas tune, one that I suspect didn’t have quite so many references to the National Front and the IRA in its original incarnation.
“Nite Klub” is a splendid swipe at the blank boredom of generic, lowest common denominator entertainment (“Is this the in place to be? / What am I doing here? / Watching the girls go by / Spending money on beer”) ; “Doesn’t Make It Alright” and “Concrete Jungle” confront racism and violence respectively, but they drift disturbingly off-message on the vicious “Little Bitch”. “(Dawning Of A) New Era” is a frantic, pell-mell scrabble, especially notable for Jerry Dammers’ end-of-the-pier organ flourishes. “Blank Expression”’s vision of a deserted, snowbound Coventry is hardly pop music territory; perhaps fittingly, Tricky lifted the lines “I walk in a bar and immediately I sense danger / You look at me girl as if I was some kind of a total stranger” for the Massive Attack track “Eurochild”. The elaborately plotted “Stupid Marriage” shares its titular theme with “Too Much Too Young”, which, in live form, became the band’s first number one. It’s almost as though Dammers is working through some serious relationship issues in public. Even the twitchy paranoia of “Gangsters”, with its horror film soundtrack guitar and keyboard lines, reached number six as a single, a feat that seems utterly improbable 30 years later.