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Coventry's sublime answer to New Wave
on 13 March 2001
The bulk of the Specials' career between 1979 and 1981 is solidly collated in this truly excellent compilation album.
Jerry Dammers was the musical genius who provided the main driving force behind the diverse talent he had collated, all of which were excellent live rock musicians. Furthermore, many have frontman viewed Terry Hall as the direct precursor of Morrissey, with his deadpan, sardonic vocals and tragi-comedic lyrics about life's more mundane subject-matter, eg, 'I'd rather have lipstick on my collar than piss-stains on my shoes'.... truly inspired ! For 18 months or so, The Special's were deservedly Britain's biggest band, even making a sizeable impact in the USA, where they achieved cult status.
There are several standout tracks here, particularly the three #1 hits, Too Much Too Young (about teenage pregnancy), Rat Race (about the Coventry band's resentment of having to move south to London to succeed) and the haunting Ghost Town, from 1981. Ghost Town is an excellent snapshot of a country at the end of its tether, highlighting Coventry's rapid social, economic and psychological desolation during Thatcher's first two years in power, and it proved extremely prophetic when just months later, several major cities experienced rioting on an unprecedented scale (this theme was also inherent in their famous Concrete Jungle track). However, with choice tracks such as the classic Gangsters, A Message To You Rudi, Do Nothing and Friday Night, Saturday Morning plus the Special AKA's Nelson Mandela, there is quality here in adbundance.
The sound of ska has never sounded so good and you will find few who do not hold this band with the utmost respect. The Special's proved to be one of the world's first socially-aware bands that did'nt ram their messages down our throats but just concentrated on sounded great (some irritatingly called them The Clash of Ska). They certainly led the way, if not musically, but thematically, for the likes of The Smiths and Billy Bragg and were a welcome diversion from the materialistic, New Romantic tosh that was rapidly swamping Britain at the time. Eventually it all came to an abrupt end after Ghost Town, but the offshoot was the brilliant, Terry Hall-led Fun Boy Three followed by his excellent Colourfield project, proving that Dammers was not the only musical genius onboard the ska phenomenon that brought the 'Dance Craze' to Britain.