Tuesday, 9 June 2015

"Specials: 2CD Special Edition” by SPECIALS (2015 Chrysalis/Two Tone 2CD Set – Tim Debney Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry




"...A Message To You...Don’t Call Me Scarface!"

There are some albums that just put a smile on your face – and a lot of them are debuts from British bands released in the late Seventies. There’s Derry’s finest “The Undertones” from May 1979 – Madness and their fab Nutty Boys opening salvo “One Step Beyond” from October 1979 – and of course those other very rude boys – The Sex Pistols and “Never Mind The Bollocks...” from way back in October 1977 (my mum thought they were lovely chaps deep down and just needed a good meal). But for sheer joy-inducing affection – the November 1979 self-titled Ska Rock debut from Coventry’s The Specials on the wonderful 2 Tone Records takes some beating.

I recall on many occasions when I worked in Reckless Records in Soho’s Berwick Street when the album would come in (a sure sign of a decent collection) - within minutes of purchase it would take pride-of-place on our display wall dressed up in a shiny new heavy-gauge PVC sleeve and a natty display triangle. But we quickly learned that this was sort of futile - because milliseconds later some visibly animated punter would slap it down on the counter sporting the aforementioned smile on his 30-something kisser and say out loud “I WANT THIS!” in an excitable way. You could even see he was already thinking of acquiring yet another 2 Tone button and skinny tie in Sister Ray just up the street. Ah...them was the days...still are...

Some 35 years after its first appearance on vinyl LP with that gorgeous laminate sleeve – Chrysalis have decided to do a solid by The Specials much-loved debut album and give it a 2015 Special Edition 2CD overhaul. And a lovely thing it is too. Here are contraceptive-married with a kid should be having fun details...

UK released 30 March 2015 (April 2015 in the USA) – “The Specials: 2CD Special Edition” is on Chrysalis/Two Tone CDLTTR 5001 (Barcode 0825646336081) and it gangsters out as follows....

Disc 1 – The Album (47:43 minutes):
1. Gangsters
2. A Message To You Rudy
3. Do The Dog
4. It’s Up To You
5. Nite Klub
6. Doesn’t Make It Alright
7. Concrete Jungle
8. Too Hot
9. Monkey Man
10. (Dawning Of A) New Era
11. Blank Expression
12. Stupid Marriage
13. Too Much Too Young
14. Little Bitch
15. You’re Wondering Now
[Notes: Produced by Elvis Costello - the British LP is tracks 2 to 15 and was released 3 November 1979 on vinyl LP in the UK on Chrysalis/2 Tone CDL TT 5001. It was preceded by their debut 45 in the UK “Gangsters” (credited to The Special A.K.A.) released 28 July 1979 on Two Tone TT 1. The American variant of the album on Chrysalis FV 41265 came out in December 1979 as a 15-track LP placing the song “Gangsters” at the end of Side 1. Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders sings backing vocals on “Nite Klub”]

Disc 2 – Extra Specials (44:42 minutes):
Too Much Too Young EP by THE SPECIAL A.K.A. LIVE! Featuring Nico
1. Too Much Too Young (Live)
2. Guns Of Navarone (Live)
3. Skinheads Symphony (Live)
(a) Long Shot Kick The Bucket (b) Liquidator (c) Skinhead Moon Stomp
Tracks 1 to 3 released in the UK January 1980 on Chrysalis/Two Tone CHSTT 7

BBC In Concert – The Specials At The Paris Theatre (15.12.79)
4. (Dawning Of A) New Era
5. Do The Dog
6. Rat Race
7. Blank Expression
8. Rude Buoys Outa Jail
9. Concrete Jungle
10. Too Much Too Young
11. Guns Of Navarone
12. Nite Klub
13. Gangsters
14. Medley: (a) Long Shot Kick The Bucket (b) Skinhead Moon Stomp

CDLTTR 5001 comes in a four-way foldout card digipak like those Universal Deluxe Editions but without the bandana. On the inner flaps are the black and white photos of the band looking up at the camera – those most closely associated with the original vinyl LP’s rear sleeve. On the inner flaps are photos I’ve not seen before – on an estate with their feet on a pile of steel girders and on an Odeon sign. The CDs sport the distinctive Rude Boy 2 Tone logo and design. The 20-page booklet features affectionate new liner notes from Mojo’s LOIS WILSON along with more black and white photos of the boys in varying poses. There’s a singles page which shows those early 45s – The Special A.K.A. vs. The Selector stamped sleeve of “Gangsters” and the Too Much Too Young Live EP and so on.

The remaster has been done by TIM DEBNEY at Fluid Mastering in the UK and to my ears it’s far better than the version I’ve had for years (as well as tracks on the “Stereo-Typical: A’s, B’s & Rarities” set). There’s ever so slightly more hiss on tracks like their cover of Dandy Livingstone’s “A Message To You Rudy” but the clarity of the organ and the brass is far better – and you can hear those drum cracks with a force now. When you play the Jerry Dammers cut “It’s Up To You” you can amplifiers buzzing and when that Bass and Terry Hall deadpan vocal kicks in – it packs an amazing punch. This time around you can almost discern Chrissie Hynde’s backing vocals on the “what am I doing here” dancer “Nite Klub” (well almost). It sounds fabulous to me. The reggae backdrop to their version of Cecil Campbell’s “Too Hot” features amazing clarity on those drums rolls and highhats as the boys moans about the temperature. The “court in session” vocal hijinks by Judge Roughneck on “Stupid Marriage” jumps out of the speakers at you – and what a great tune – utterly infectious stuff. Again there’s momentary hiss on Dodd Coxsone’s “You’re Wondering Now” and quite a bit during the Acapella finish – but I’d argue that it stills sounds fresher and more alive than before. And those lyrics about council estates lack of condoms and youth just wanting to dance still get me every time.

Everyone knows and loves the “Too Much Too Young” Live EP – it’s always been a total winner. But I was expecting the Paris Concert to be a bit of an Anniversary excuse roll out – but I’m thrilled to report that it’s brilliant and captures the band at the very top of their Ska Bopping crowd-pleasing best. To chants of “Rude Boy” – The Specials launch into an ubertight version of “(Dawning Of A) New Era” and immediately you’re hit with the great audio. Well produced by the BBC – it feels fantastically alive and fresh. They dedicate “Rat Race” to “all you students revising...” while the organ and Joe Jackson “Look Sharp!” guitar of “Blank Expression” are right in your face and bustling with newness. The Ska classic of “Guns Of Navarone” sends the crowd into a frenzy and why wouldn’t it (stunning brass and flicky guitar work) – but I have to say that my heart has always been with the magical “Gangsters” which to this day sends me pogoing around my living room like a Two Tone loon (not a good look at my age). The Medley of The Pioneers’ “Long Shot Kick De Bucket” with Symarip’s “Skinhead Moon Stomp” (both originally on the mighty Trojan label) finishes the crowd off proper – breathless, screaming and stamping the floor for more, more, more..


Britain has produced some extraordinary bands fronting a bewildering diversity of musical styles – but The Specials have always been (for the want of better words) that little bit...well special. 

Get this double-CD Rude Boy joy into your life pronto. Yeah, Yeah, Yeah...

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