The Specials’ new album is an odd mix of covers… with no ska.

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The Specials’ new album is an odd mix of covers… with no ska.

The Specials’ theme was always about social justice. The Coventry Ska band was a driving force behind the 2-Tone explosion in the late 1970s, spreading an unambiguous message of racial tolerance.

They reassembled in 2008 without founder Jerry Dammers, and there are currently just three original members left: Lynval Golding, a Jamaican-born guitarist and singer, Terry Hall, and bassist Horace Panter.

Freedom Highway, a fantastic bluesy rendition on a 1965 Staple Singers song about black American voting rights in the divided South, kicks off this surprising covers CD.

Everybody Knows by Leonard Cohen has a jazzy, almost Grace Jones feel to it.

The lyrics aren’t quite as dismal as the original, but they’re nonetheless timely: “Everybody knows the boat is leaking/ Everybody knows the captain lied.”

They cover two songs by Malvina “Little Boxes” Reynolds, including the folky blues I Don’t Mind Failing In This World, which contains the depressing line “Don’t mind wearing the torn britches/Cause those who succeed are the sons of bitches.”

There are some excellent sounds on this track. There’s gospel, jump blues, folk, and a smidgeon of country in there… However, there is no Ska. They don’t sound anything like the Specials.

The songs are virtually entirely American, with themes such as the Watts riots and the Vietnam draft reflected. Except for Lynval’s interpretation of Bob Marley’s Get Up, Stand Up, which is effectively cut down to just guitar and vocals.

This appears to be an unusual decision for an English band. You’d think they could have used British class songs or protest anthems from past CND marches.

At the very least, the level of chants on modern student demonstrations will improve as a result of this.

Try Neville Staple and Roddy Radiation’s Rude Rebels for a more traditional Specials sound.

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