Sunday, June 29, 2014

Special AKA - In the Studio

This month marks the thirtieth anniversary of In the Studio, the third album from English ska band the Specials which charted at number 34 in the UK.

The band had broken up in 1980 but reformed with a new roster as of this release. Stan Campbell, Caron Wheeler, Rhoda Dakar and Claudia Fontaine were on vocals. John Shipley played lead guitar, Jerry Dammers played organ and piano, Gary McManus was on bass, and John Bradbury was on drums. Dick Cuthell and Nigel Reeve provided flugelhorn and saxophone respectively. Collectively they were now known as Special AKA.

Side one begins with "Bright Lights", a bold and funky number about the fast night life in the big city.

The heavy piano at the start of "The Lonely Crowd" sets up a gloomy mood.

"What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend" is up next. The title alone had me curious, but the rest of the song has a jazz/Latin flavor to it too. It reminds me of something I would expect to hear on a Kid Creole record.

"Housebound" tells of someone who must find ways to keep himself entertained without leaving the safe confines of his home. Again, the Latin elements are pronounced here.

The side ends with the swinging "Night on the Tiles".

Side two opens with the popular track "(Free) Nelson Mandela", a song protesting the imprisonment of Mandela by the South African government. As a single, it went to number 9 in the Netherlands and the UK, number 8 in Belgium, number 6 in Ireland, and number 1 in New Zealand. My first exposure to this track came from the Rhino records compilation Just Can't Get Enough: New Wave Hits of the 80's in the early 90's.

"War Crimes (the Crime Remains the Same)" has an old-fashioned sound to it, to me. That gives it an interesting quality though, like a relic unearthed from the past. The topic though was timely, focusing on world events in the Middle East. At six minutes, it is the longest track on the record.

"Racist Friend" has a true traditional ska sound to it. The lyrics advise one to stay away from those filled with prejudice as often you cannot change their viewpoint to one that is more accepting.

"Alcohol" takes the listener into a downward spiral.

The album closes with "Break Down the Door".

This was the first time I had heard most of the tracks on In the Studio. Just as this line-up was an evolution to the Specials band, the music herein is also an evolution over what I would consider traditional ska. This record has a decidedly R&B influence going on as well. That makes for an intriguing mix musically. It reminds me a bit of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, a North Carolina band whose music I got into during the early 90's.

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