The Specials “Protest Songs 1994-2012”

In the world of ska music, The Specials should be a British national pride. They were a musical unit that rode the waves of racial equality and became a beacon of growing social consciousness for many youths in the late 1970s. They are one of the real elements of ska which are also part of the 2Tone’s saga that have been an inspiration for many musicians since then.

The young men from the city of Coventry have gathered since four decades ago. They were ordained as guardians by many British people at that time. They spoke about massive unemployment and injustice. They rallied against police brutality and a big highlight that shared 2Tone’s movement to speak out against racism.

Musically, they succeeded to bring a fresh infusion into their ska repertoire. The Specials bring a jolt of joy through rhythmic guitars and hypnotic grooves to dance, stylish and fashionable. In addition to all these things, they raise awareness for many listeners to stand, believe and defend human rights.

Now, The Specials only consists of 3 core members, Horace Panter, Lynval Golding and Terry Hall. With a reunion after a long break they released “Encore” a virtuous LP in 2019, an album that brought absolute victory to many of their fans. Their musical composition is not much different with the new formation. As the epitome of the ska world, The Specials still remains sharp and stylish!

In 2021, they released another astonishing album. Instead of releasing a Jamaican Reggae album as a continuation of “Encore” which they previously planned, they brought “Protest Songs 1924-2012”, a collection of cover versions of songs by many artists curated from this core trio.

The Specials brings a discourse on what the standard of a protest song should be. Polemic might be inevitable and there might be a long argument upon this idea. However, let us (Kultur) believe in De gustibus non est disputandum for this album.

In “Protest Songs 1924-2012”, Terry, Lynval and Horace backed by a music team consisting of Nikolaj Torp Larsen (Keyboards, Harmonica, Guitar, Accordion), Kenrick Rowe (Drums, Percussion), Steve Cradock (Electric/Acoustic Guitar) , Tim Smart (Trombone), Pablo Mendelssohn (Flugelhorn), Jim Hunt (Saxophone), Michael ‘Bammie’ Rose (Repeater Drum), Tony ‘Groco’ Uter (Bass Drum) and Hannah Hu (Guest Vocalist). Audio department was backed by George Murphy, Liam Larkin, Cenzo Townshend, Camden Clarke & Rob Sellens at studios Eastcote (London) and Decoy Studio (Melton-England), and the artwork was done by De Facto, the agency that also handles Fred Perry.

The specials re-presents the history of the struggle over social problems in “Protest Songs 1924-2012”. They didn’t bring the elixir of musical formulas from their self-titled debut 42 years ago. No walking bassline with rhythmic accents on the off beat, no hunky-punky guitar, no ska. They bring back the various histories of protest in music. Something that is actually attached to The Specials. Of course, all these tracks are served with style!

In this album, Terry, Horace and Lynval bring us to savor the “protest”. We can enjoy Terry Hall’s charismatic “story telling” through the curation of his favorite tracks. We can hear Horace deftly playing double bass. Also enjoy the positive vibes from Lynval through an acoustic set.

The tracklist in this album consists of “Freedom Highway” from The Staples Singers (1965), “Everybody Knows” from Leonard Cohen (1988),  “I Don’t Mind Failing” from Malvina Reynolds (1967) “Black, Brown & White” from Big Bill Broonzy (1938), “Ain’t Going To Let Nobody Turn Us Around” from The Dixie Jubilee Singers (1924), “F__k All The Perfect People” from Chip Taylor & The New Ukrainians (2012), “My Next Door Neighbor” from Jerry McCain & His Upstarts (1957), “Trouble Every Day” from The Mothers Of Invention (1966), “Listening Wind” from Talking Heads (1980), “I Live In A City” from Malvina Reynolds (1960), “Soldiers Who Want To Be Heroes” from Rod McKuen (1963),  and “Get Up, Stand Up” from Bob Marley & The Wailers (1973).

The Specials retells a lot of important history through those songs mentioned above. Songs with meaningful messages that can be a guide to fight injustice. Messages that are still relevant to the current situation. Racism, freedom of speech, the negative stigma toward what we believe in are still attached to many aspects of our lives. Through “Protest Songs 1924-2012” those who are happy to get advantages out of this foolish act will surely be pissed off by The Special. They are always a real threat and nightmare to wickedness. 

(Words: Sam, Translation Supervised: Yedi)

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