The Best of the Specials

The Specials are special because over their brief existence they didn't really know what they wanted to be: are they ska? Are they soul? Are they reggae? Do they care? Not particularly, and that generally worked for a brief period until the band said a collective "sod it" after four years, three albums and lots of dry cleaning bills for their two-tone suits. (Ignoring, of course, the chaotic period of the Special AKA culminating in In The Studio, and the various later and only tangentially related reincarnations.) This CD/DVD collection is superior to their other compilations because it tries to take a good cross-section of their albums as well as their better known singles, so the completists will enjoy it particularly, though their best work wasn't ever released on any LP at the time ("Gangsters" and "Ghost Town" especially). In fact, with only three albums to choose from, maybe four if you count the live EP Too Much Too Young (solely represented here by the title track's infamous ode to contraception), this disc ends up regurgitating a fair bit of them and even includes their weaker moments (for me, the nadir is "Racist Friend," which shows cancel culture was just as much a thing in Thatcherian England). Jerry Dammers is no Paul Weller or even Joe Strummer, and his unsophisticated lyrical acumen undercuts his message (especially exemplified by "Doesn't Make It Alright" and "War Crimes," and to a lesser extent "Nelson Mandela" though you can't hate that beat), but the band's dogged willingness to adopt just about any musical style they thought they could jam to means pretty much everyone's going to find at least part of their collective works entertaining. Look out for my second favourite Specials track "What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend" and the most inexplicable music video ever made to accompany it, which you can experience on the DVD in all of Dammers' leering gaptoothed extraterrestrial glory. I don't review DVDs here, but this one is noteworthy not only for featuring live footage ("On Video") but also that and several other music videos ("On Film") including several tracks that don't appear on the CD at all. American fans, do note the second disc is PAL; it's a good thing Blu-ray saved us from television standards with oppressive digital rights management instead. (Content: some adult themes.)