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It’s four decades since The Specials’ definitive, eponymous debut, yet here they are, railing against many of the same issues – corruption, poverty, racism, sexism, violence, you name it – that first provoked them back in Coventry all those years ago. “The people”, they pointed out on 1981’s Ghost Town, “getting angry”, but the people have no less reason now. This comeback, therefore, could hardly be timelier. In fact, one might argue, it’s tragically overdue.

The Specials, of course, are no strangers to struggles.

Jerry Dammers – whose efforts to lead the group in fresh directions on 1980’s More Specials first caused them to splinter – is missing, having nearly scuppered proceedings when they reformed in 2008, later claiming he’d been elbowed out of the band.

Today’s line-up is also short of Roddy “Radiation” Byers, who quit in 2014, and Neville Staple, forced out by poor health in 2012.

John Bradbury, meanwhile, sadly died in 2015, just as recordings began.

The stylistic drifts taken on Encore might suggest that their remaining members still pull in somewhat different directions. Opener Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys – one of a number of vibrant covers here, this one by The Equals, whom Terry Hall acknowledges as “the first British multiracial band” – draws greedily on disco, while Vote For Me has a delicious reggae lilt. A glorious, albeit gently mournful cover of Fun Boy Three’s striking The Lunatics (Have Taken Over The Asylum) adds deft Latin touches, Breaking Point playfully mixes jazz and ska, and The Life And Times (Of A Man Called Depression) finds Hall in declamatory mode as he addresses his bipolarity.

They display, nonetheless, a genuine unity, encapsulated in their parting shot, the nobly titled We Sell Hope. Hall may sound as despondent as ever, but his conclusion – “Looked all around the world/ Could be a beautiful place to live in” – is as uplifting as his backing.

Furthermore, the presence of Saffiyah Khan, famously photographed facing down an EDL march in 2017, underlines their ambitions for equality on a defiant pastiche of Prince Buster’s Ten Commandments: “I shall be seen/ And I will be heard”.

But if Lynval Golding’s B.L.M. provides a revelationary, uncompromising exposé of the Windrush generation’s suffering, and Blam Blam Fever unsparingly derides American gun culture, Hall’s still earned the last words on an album that might be better titled Very Specials: “We’ve got to take care of each other”.

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About Classic Pop

Issue 49 is on sale now! For our first issue of 2019 we put our head in the lion’s mouth to count down the Top 40 most important pop artists of the 80s. Will your favourite come away with the spoils? As ever, this issue is packed with great interviews including a very rare chat with Prefab Sprout’s Paddy McAloon and we catch up with Joe Jackson as he celebrates 40 years in music with a new album and tour. We meet Dido who is returning to the pop fray and we also feature must-read interviews with Tracey Thorn, Tanita Tikaram and Ladytron. Depeche Mode’s troubled masterpiece Songs Of Faith And Devotion is our classic album and we also serve up a buyer’s guide to punk-pop pioneers Squeeze. As well as our essential round-up of what to look forward to in the pop world in 2019, we take one last look back at 2018 with our second Classic Pop Reader Awards. Our packed reviews section features the remarkable comeback by The Specials alongside new albums by Ian Brown, The Beat featuring Ranking Roger, White Lies and UB40 plus a reissues section that includes Prince and David Sylvian on vinyl, a comprehensive Paul Young singles boxset, Buzzcocks, Bananarama and much more. On the live front, we review gigs by Adam Ant, All Saints, Lily Allen and more.