Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Specials [extended]

  • The Specials [Chrysalis, 1980] A-
  • More Specials [Chrysalis, 1980] B
  • Ghost Town/Why?/Friday Night Saturday Morning [Chrysalis EP, 1981] A
  • In the Studio [Chrysalis, 1984] B+
  • Today's Specials [Virgin, 1996] Dud

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Specials [Chrysalis, 1980]
If it takes longer than you'd figure for these jingles to get across, that's partly because the ska they don't quite reinvent tends to skip where the reggae that succeeded it dug in, but also partly because their sound, especially their vocal sound, is just to thin to make an immediate impression (compare their "Monkey Man" to Toots's if you dare). In the end, though, there's a jaunty confidence to this music that's a lot less forced than power pop's. And there's no gainsaying their commercial messages--promote racial harmony, use contraceptives. A-

More Specials [Chrysalis, 1980]
This time they make the ska sound their own by synthesizing its trippy beat and their own inborn vocal attenuation into a single formal principle--a platonic ideal of fun. Especially on side two, the result is so light it's almost ethereal, political consciousness and all. B

Ghost Town/Why?/Friday Night Saturday Morning [Chrysalis EP, 1981]
Boom gone bust, everyone restless, no live music cos there's fighting on the dance floor, and the recorded music all ghostly. "Did you really want to kill me?" a victim who's proud of his black skin asks an assailant who's proud of his white. "You make me an angry man." A mild-sounding weekend reveler wishes for lipstick on his shirt instead of piss on his shoes. In short, a recipe for a riot--just in time for the end of the world. A

The Special AKA: In the Studio [Chrysalis, 1984]
There's miraculous rhythmic progress from the polkafied chug-along of the Specials' ska to the suave Caribbean lilt here, which makes Jerry Dammers's most reclusive flights functional. But Dammers (together with mouthpiece Stan Campbell) never convinces me that the anomie he evokes so stubbornly has the public dimension that its proximity to "Bright Lights," "Racist Friend," and "Free Nelson Mandela" implies. Not often that the political songs on an album seem most down-to-earth. B+

Today's Specials [Virgin, 1996] Dud