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on 20 September 2010
There are some great tracks here, but some weaker tracks, that for me do detract from the album as a whole.
First of all, there is no getting away from the greatness of 'A message to you Rudy' - now winning new fans thanks to it's use in a N**t ad. It still sounds like a breath of fresh air, and there's something special about a band that does its own brass, rather than using session men ( qv the mighty Dexys ). Any track that has a trombone solo is on the way to being a great listen and this is no exception.
'Too much, Too Young' is definitely evocative, and of its time, but with older ears there is something a little heartless about its lyric 'married with a kid when you should be having fun with me', could now almost be read as a critique of hedonistic youth, rather than condemning early procreation.
My personal favourite is 'Doesn't make it alright'. I find Hall's plaintive, almost artless vocal very touching, with lines like "Some people think they're really clever/To smash your head against the wall/Then they say 'you got it my way/They really think they know it all'".
On the weaker side, "Dawning of a new era", "Do the Dog", "Monkey Man", "Too Hot" are fairly routine numbers, and 'Little Bitch' while being fairly average musically is really quite misogynistic, unless I'm misreading a satirical lyric.
'Stupid Marriage' and 'Concrete Jungle' are strong lyrically, and the Specials sound like they're having a lot of fun with Neville Staple playing the role of a judge, addressing the defendant as 'Rude Boy' on the former, but not quite matched by the music IMO.
Maybe I just don't find ska as exhilirating as some, but in retrospect this album is just too variable to quite deserve it's classic reputation. I think a lot of this rests on the Specials as an idea - a band confidently fusing black and white musicians, at a time of racial tension was a rallying cry for many. A couple of decades on I listen to it purely as a record. I do like the best bits though!