Waylaid by writers’ block and Covid, the Specials have been unable to make their planned Jamaican reggae follow-up to 2019’s Encore. So they’ve recorded some covers instead, shapeshifting through blues, folk, country and rock. It’s odd that most of the songs are American, when this band are so good at delineating a particularly British experience. And your definition of a protest song may be very different from theirs.
It doesn’t matter. The Specials have always balanced calls to action with jaundiced observation; intertwined the personal and political. For every Racist Friend, a Ghost Town. Their take on Frank Zappa’s tartly cynical Trouble Every Day works surprisingly well alongside the impassioned exhilaration of Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Us Around. Terry Hall delivers a huskily seductive reading of Leonard Cohen’s bleak, hard-won aphorisms on Everybody Knows, while Hannah Hu shines through an imaginative rework of Talking Heads’ Listening Wind. There’s the odd misstep – a pounding version of the Staples Singers’ delicately rousing Freedom Highway will sound far better live – but the raw immediacy of Lynval Golding’s vocals on Get Up, Stand Up is as powerful and stirring as his BLM monologue on Encore.