The Specials - The Specials (Cover Artwork)

The Specials

The Specials: The Specials

The Specials (1979)

2 Tone / Chrysalis


4.5
Albums like the Specials' eponymous 1979 debut are the reason music fans can justify spending large quantities of time perusing around in record shops or online holding onto hope that "that next great album" is out there just waiting to be found -- that album he or she can put on and listen to from ...

Albums like the Specials' eponymous 1979 debut are the reason music fans can justify spending large quantities of time perusing around in record shops or online holding onto hope that "that next great album" is out there just waiting to be found -- that album he or she can put on and listen to from start to finish, again and again. Albums like this are capable of such motivation because of one simple rule: If it happens once, it can happen again. This album is one of those classics, plain and simple. The most sought-after moniker in all of art, a classic has to do two things: channel the past and provide inspiration for the future. The fruits of the past make available the seeds for the future in a very literal sense here. One spin through and anyone versed in late `80s / early `90s ska and punk will recognize the catalyst for later classics such as Operation Ivy's "Take Warning," Sublime's "Badfish" and the Bouncing Soul's "Fight to Live," among others (I'll let you discover which songs they're buried in). Equally, a listener knowledgeable of ska prior to 1979 will recognize the brilliantly performed covers scattered throughout.

Riding the strength of A+ quality original material like the carefree "Night Club" ("I don't have to work / There's no work to do!"), the dark, apprehensive "Concrete Jungle" ("Animals are after me / It ain't safe on the streets"), and the condemning "Little Bitch" ("The only things you want to see are kitsch / The only thing you want to be is rich"), The Specials solidified ska's relevance outside of Jamaica. Throw in some exceptional covers ("A Message to You Rudy," "Monkey Man" and "You're Wondering Now"), their first single, "Gangsters," which has been added to the album's track listing in later editions and occasional Mick Jones-inspired, angst-driven guitar riffing and you get the best ska album released to date. You get a listening experience where, at a healthy 44 minutes in length, you are surprised when you hear the low-key, a cappella farewell of "You're wondering now what to do / Now you know this is the end," because it feels like the album has just begun.

On display is a hearty balance of tongue-in-cheek laughs (see "Nite Klub"), thoughtful social statements and criticisms ("Aint he cute? No he ain't / He's just another burden on the welfare state") from "Too Much Too Young") and positive messages ("Just because you're a black boy / Just because you're a white / It doesn't mean you have to hate him / It doesn't mean you have to fight") from "It Doesn't Make it Alright" -- all accompanied by uplifting, skillfully crafted and executed music.

I'm not meaning to suggest that the Specials attained perfection here, though. "Do the Dog" and "Too Hot" are a bit weaker than the rest of the material, and a legitimate argument can be made that there is too much cover material present. The lesser songs do not stop the party, however, and the covers are played so naturally that they blend right in. These are minor qualms, but enough to demerit the overall score to a 9.

Nearly 30 years after its release, The Specials shows no indication of loosing its enchantment. As long as songwriters keep finding inspiration in these 44 minutes, this album will thrive. Oh, and for the record -- what you do when you realize it's the end is simple: Hit the play button again and grab another beer.