The Specials – More Specials (1980)

AllMusic Review: Less frenzied than its predecessor, but more musically adventurous, More Specials was nearly as popular in its day as its predecessor, falling just one chart place below their debut. It kicked off in similar fashion as well, with a classic cover, this time with an exuberant take on Carl Sigman and Conrad Magidson’s 1940s chestnut “Enjoy Yourself.” A slower, brooding version with the Go-Go’s in tow brings the album to a close, taking the place of the set-sealing “You’re Wondering Now,” which brought the curtain down on their first set. But there the similarities come to an end. The rest of the album is comprised of originals, including a pair of instrumentals — the Northern soul-esque “Sock It to ‘Em JB” and the Mexican-flavored “Holiday Fortnight” — as well as a duo of minimally vocalized pieces, the intriguing “International Jet Set,” and the overtly apocalyptic “Man at C&A.” But fans had already been primed for the band’s changing musical directions by the release the month before of “Stereotypes,” its spaghetti western aura filled with the group’s more mournful mood. It’s an emotional despair taken to even greater heights on “Do Nothing,” as the group futilely searches for a future, but musically stumbles upon a cheery, easygoing rhythm more appropriate to the pop styles of the English Beat than the angrier sounds the Specials had made their own. But to prove it’s no fluke, there’s the equally bright and breezy “Hey, Little Rich Girl,” boasting fabulous sax solos from Madness’ Lee Thompson. However, it’s an immortal line from “Pearl’s Cafe” that Terry Hall and the guesting Bodysnatchers’ Rhoda Dakar deliver up in duet that best sums up their own, and the country’s pure frustration: “It’s all a load of bollocks, and bollocks to it all.” It was an intensely satisfying set in its day, even if it wasn’t as centered as their debut. The group seems to be moving simultaneously in too many directions, while the lyrics, too, are not quite as hard-hitting as earlier efforts. —Jo-Ann Greene

Track Listing

Side one

  1. “Enjoy Yourself” (Herb Magidson, Carl Sigman) – 3:39
  2. “Rat Race” (Roddy Byers) – 3:07 – NB: not included on UK release nor Dutch LP
  3. “Man at C & A” (Jerry Dammers, Terry Hall) – 3:36
  4. “Hey, Little Rich Girl” (Roddy Byers) – 3:35 – featuring Lee Jay Thompson
  5. “Do Nothing” (Lynval Golding) – 3:43
  6. “Pearl’s Cafe” (Dammers) – 3:07
  7. “Sock It to ’em J.B.” (Clayton Dunn, Rex Garvin, Pete Holman) – 2:56

Side two

  1. “Stereotypes/Stereotypes Pt. 2” (Dammers, Neville Staple) – 7:24
  2. “Holiday Fortnight” (Byers) – 2:45
  3. “I Can’t Stand It” (Dammers) – 4:01 – featuring Rhoda Dakar
  4. “International Jet Set” (Dammers) – 5:37
  5. “Enjoy Yourself (Reprise)” (Magidson, Sigman) – 1:46

 

Schill Score: 7.75/10

 

 

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The Specials – Specials (1979)

A perfect moment in time captured on vinyl forever, such is the Specials’ eponymous debut album; it arrived in shops in the middle of October 1979 and soared into the U.K. Top Five. It was an utter revelation — except for anyone who had seen the band on-stage, for the album was at its core a studio recording of their live set, and at times even masquerades as a gig. There were some notable omissions: “Gangsters,” for one, but that had already spun on 45, as well as the quartet of covers that would appear on their live Too Much Too Young EP in the new year. But the rest are all here, 14 songs’ strong, mostly originals, with a few covers of classics thrown in for good measure. That includes their fabulous take on Dandy Livingstone’s “A Message to You Rudy,” an equally stellar version of the Maytals’ “Monkey Man,” and the sizzling take on Prince Buster’s “Too Hot.” If those were fabulous, their own compositions were magnificent. The Specials managed to distill all the anger, disenchantment, and bitterness of the day straight into their music. The vicious “Nite Klub” — with its unforgettable line, “All the girls are slags and the beer tastes just like piss” — perfectly skewered every bad night the members had ever spent out on the town; “Blank Expression” extended the misery into unwelcoming pubs, while “Concrete Jungle” moved the action onto the streets, capturing the fear and violence that stalked the inner cities. And then it gets personal. “It’s Up to You” throws down the gauntlet for those who disliked the group, its music, and its stance, while simultaneously acting as a rallying cry for supporters. “Too Much Too Young” shows the Specials’ disdain for teen pregnancy and marriage; “Stupid Marriage” drags two such offenders before a Judge Dread-esque magistrate, with Terry Hall playing the outraged and sniping prosecutor; while “Little Bitch” is downright nasty. Those were polemics; “It Doesn’t Make It Alright” reaches a hand out to listeners and, with conviction, delivers up a heartfelt plea against racism, but even this number contains a sharp sting in its tail. It’s a bitter brew, aggressively delivered, with even the slower numbers sharply edged, and therefore the band wisely scattered sparkling covers across the album to help lift its mood. The set appropriately ends with the rocksteady-esque yearning of “You’re Wondering Now,” the song that invariably closed their live shows. Even though producer Elvis Costello gave the record a bright sound, it doesn’t lighten the dark currents that run through the group’s songs; if anything, his production heightens them. It’s left to guests Rico Rodriguez and Dick Cuthell to provide a little Caribbean sun to the Specials’ sound, their brass sweetening the flashes of anger and disaffection that sweep across the record. And so, this was Britain in late 1979, an unhappy island about to explode. — Jo-Ann Greene

Track Listing:

 

Side one
  1. “A Message to You, Rudy” (Dandy Livingstone) – 2:53
  2. “Do the Dog” (Rufus Thomas; arrangement by Jerry Dammers) – 2:09
  3. “It’s Up to You” (Dammers, The Specials) – 3:25
  4. “Nite Klub” (Dammers, The Specials) – 3:22
  5. “Doesn’t Make It Alright” (Dammers, Dave Goldberg, Mark Harrison) – 3:26
  6. “Concrete Jungle” (Roddy Byers) – 3:18
  7. “Too Hot” (Cecil Campbell) – 3:09
Side two
  1. “Monkey Man” (Toots Hibbert) – 2:45
  2. “(Dawning of A) New Era” (Dammers) – 2:24
  3. “Blank Expression” (Dammers, The Specials) – 2:43
  4. “Stupid Marriage” (Dammers, Mark Harrison, Neville Staple, Cecil Campbell) – 3:49
  5. “Too Much Too Young” (Dammers, acknowledgment to Lloyd Charmers) – 6:06*
  6. “Little Bitch” (Dammers)† – 2:31
  7. “You’re Wondering Now” (Clement Seymour) – 2:36

 

Schill Score: 9.25/10

 

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