Absolutely the one-stop for your Specials - classic compilat
Winthrop T. Harrison | 08/01/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This CD captures all of the highlights to the real Specials career, and I cannot reccommend it highly enough. I am certainly not a fan of the many spin-off bands from the British Ska movement, but I will always have respect for the origin. Which would be this lot - the movement began with them, and for my money, ended with them as well. "Concrete Jungle" is an amazingly terse diary of the risk of wanting to go out on a Saturday night to have fun, but not wanting a broken bottle in your face on a dark street. Was it too much to ask in 1979 Coventry, UK? "Doesn't Make it Alright" is a (dare I say?) tender ballad for peace between black and white. A creepy rhythmic "Ghost Town" captures an England that has been robbed by the cruelty of the Margaret Thatcher era. The refrain "do you remember the good old days before the Ghost Town" speaks to us now, as those Americans old enough to know remember the pre-Reaganite/George W Bush era. This is powerful lasting stuff. When the lyric warns "...the people getting angry" - it all seems very 2009, and very unfolding in August of this year. So, the music has stood up to the times.
This CD also has a razor-sharp superior version of "Too Much Too Young." To my ears, the studio version dragged noticeably, but the live version will lift you. Highlights abound - "Ghost Town", "Why", "Friday Night, Saturday Morning" & "Gangsters" were not available on the original records, but they are certainly available here. They are all wonderful.
The Specials did not last long - and while singer Terry Hall disembarked to form the Fun Boy 3, keyboardist Jerry Dammers started the Special AKA, which while thoroughly glum and un-ska-like, recorded some incredible songs. "Nelson Mandela" calls for Mandela to be freed - 7 years later it happened. Which is certainly not Dammers doing, but his actions surely helped, and it's a glorious musical trip in any case. "Racist Friend" is rather polemic - I would argue that if you have a racist friend, you try to encourage and teach them rather then abandon them - but it is musically smooth. "The Boiler" was recorded in this period - it is shocking - but not available here. But keep it in your mind and seek it out, as it seems central to what Dammer was trying to achieve, smooth music with dark lyrics that you can not forget.
It is a shame that through a combination of legal maneuvers, obscurity and god-knows-what, that so many compilations and in fact "Specials" studio albums in the last 10 years have been sheer ripoffs. A true shame that could destroy the legacy of a powerful band. All you really need are "The Specials" debut CD, the ambitious and delightful "More Specials" follow-up, and this compilation. I would also recommend the over-packed but important "Stereo-Typical: A's, B's and Rarities" to add any songs that you - a dedicated Specials fan - might want. Try "The Boiler", "Maggie's Farm" (a canny and exciting cover of Bob Dylan aimed explicitly at Maggy Thatcher...), "Skinhead Melody", "Racquel." It's a worthy trip.
spoiler: "I walk into a bar and immediately - I sense danger." You thought that was Massive Attack. Wrong - they were listening to the Specials' "Blank Expression.""