‘Encore’ has no right being this good.
The Specials’ first album in four decades, it’s a ruthlessly entertaining, hugely outspoken, inspired and inspiring experience, one that doffs its cap to those iconic opening statements while remaining resolutely rooted in 2019.
It comes after those lengthy re-union tours, and more than a little of this energy is sprinkled on ‘Encore’. ‘Vote For Me’ is a rock solid groove, it’s slinking reggae rhythm underpining a wonderfully deadpan vocal from Terry Hall, in which he ruthlessly dissects the bankrupt motivations of a political class intent on driving British hopes and ambitions off a cliff-edge.
Indeed, political spectres haunt ‘Encore’ in its entirety. Opening with a cover of The Equals’ plea for peace ‘Black Skinned Blue Eyed Boys’ the album is at its most affecting when it becomes personal. Lynval Goulding reflects on his parents’ experiences as Caribbean immigrants on ‘B.L.M.’ - Black Lives Matter, it’s a statement that these stories of Black British history, and Black British community, should never be forgotten, minimised, or discarded.
Terry Hall is strikingly open about mental health issues on ‘The Life And Times (Of A Man Called Depression)’, and perhaps the album’s most striking guest spot belongs to Saffiyah Khan, the activist who faced down an EDL facist wearing a Specials t-shirt.
Her vocal on ‘Ten Commandments’ flips the mysoginistic lyrics of the Prince Buster original, calling out sexist views in mainstream culture and everyday life while The Specials’ developed a spaced out, psych-tinged dub groove.
Retaining the pop immediacy that has always made them so striking The Specials are able to root this in contemporary issues, challenging themselves and the culture around them at every turn.
Having lost Jerry Dammers, Neville Staple, and Roddy Radiation since their reformation, and with drummer John Bradbury dying in 2015, the cards were stacked against the band – yet from the very first note ‘Encore’ is superb, a joyous, addictive experience. Remarkably, it’s everything we’d want from a Specials album in 2019… and more.
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