Life at 33 1/3: Rough and punky

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The Specials: The Specials (2 Tone)

From the vaults of Carl Meyer, an original album review written in December 1979.

Very hip in England at the moment, the ska revival: Rudeboys and their music, rocksteady.  Shorthaired adolescents (wearing two-tone tonic suits made popular in the early 60’s) dancing to their hot tempered version of ska.

Spearheading this new wave of sound and vision are The Specials (and the more polished and commercial sounding Madness).  The Specials highly anticipated debut LP was released back in November.  Producer Elvis Costello provides the band with a rattling tincan sound.  It’s crisp and fast forward with an underlying rough, punky atmosphere.

The aggressive and barking singer is locked in a frayed barrel of garage drums (sounding like dustbins), fat, elastic bass-notes, metallic reggae guitars, sharp as scissors, a wheezing organ – and occasionally, a mournful, dented brass-section.

The mix is quite weird: Rhythm-section up front, lead vocals and all solos placed deep down in the basement.  The guitar solo in “Doesn’t Make It Alright” for instance, is almost inaudible.  Strange, but very suggestive.

The music’s internal structure is built around 60’s British rhythm & blues, while rhythm is unmistakable reggae.  And the lyrics: Angry, rebellious postcards from the streets and back alleys of London.

Released: November 3, 1979

Produced by: Elvis Costello

Contents: A Message to You, Rudy/Do the Dog/It’s Up to You/Nite Klub/Doesn’t Make It Alright/Concrete Jungle/Too Hot/Monkey Man/(Dawning of A) New Era/Blank Expression/Stupid Marriage/Too Much Too Young/Little Bitch/You’re Wondering Now

Personnel:

Terry Hall – vocals

Neville Staple – vocals

Lynval Golding – rhythm guitar, vocals

Roddy Radiation – lead guitar, vocals on track six

Jerry Dammers – keyboards

Sir Horace Gentleman – bass guitar

John Bradbury – drums

Guest musicians:

Chrissie Hynde – vocals

Rico Rodriguez – trombone

Dick Cuthell – horns