Release Date: Feb 1, 2019
Record label: Island
Since their return as a working unit in 2008, The Specials have been a box office certainty on the live circuit but a lack of new material had some observers worrying that one of the UK's most vital and important bands were content to be little more than a nostalgia attraction. They may have been a long time coming, hampered by further personnel upheavals and tragedy, but these fresh fruits for the 21st century are as ripe and as rich as anyone could have expected from men of their age - singer Terry Hall is the youngster, and he turns 60 in March. These days the group comprises original members Hall, singer/guitarist Lynval Golding and bassist Horace Panter (aka Sir Horace Gentleman), augmented by keyboard player Nikolaj Torp Larsen, guitarist Steve Cradock (on loan from Ocean Colour Scene and Paul Weller) and drummer Kenrick Rowe, the latter replacing founding sticks man John Bradbury, who died suddenly in 2015.
The veteran ska-punk band addresses Brexit, austerity, Tory rule, Black Lives Matter and mental health on this welcome return. We need right-thinking rebel records like 'Encore' now more than ever Brexit chaos. A near-decade of Tory austerity. Poverty, racism and inequality on the rise. A country ….
The Specials didn't end their golden age cleanly and they didn't reunite smoothly, either. Lynval Golding, Horace Panter and Neville Staple brought the group back in 1996 and that incarnation lasted for five years before being put on ice, but their revival was overshadowed by the 2008 reunion that featured vocalist Terry Hall as well as Roddy Radiation and John Bradbury from the group's golden days. This reunion stuck around for a decade, gradually losing members until only Hall, Golding and Panter were left, augmented by Ocean Colour Scene/Paul Weller guitarist Steve Cradock.
'Encore' has no right being this good. The Specials' first album in four decades, it's a ruthlessly entertaining, hugely outspoken, inspired and inspiring experience, one that doffs its cap to those iconic opening statements while remaining resolutely rooted in 2019. It comes after those lengthy re-union tours, and more than a little of this energy is sprinkled on 'Encore'.