Waylaid by Writers’ Block and Covid, Specials were unable to follow up on Jamaican reggae slated for 2019 Bis. So they recorded a few covers instead, changing shape through blues, folk, country and rock. It’s strange that most of the songs are American, when this group is so good at describing a particularly British experience. And your definition of a protest song may be very different from theirs.
It does not matter. Specials have always balanced calls to action with jaundice watching; intertwined the personal and the political. For every racist friend, a ghost town. Their take on Frank Zappa’s cynical Trouble Every Day works surprisingly well alongside the passionate euphoria of Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Us Around. Terry Hall delivers a raucous and seductive read of Leonard Cohen’s dark and hard-earned aphorisms on Everybody Knows, while Hannah Hu shines through an imaginative redesign of Talking Heads’ Listening Wind. There’s a weird faux pas – a hard-hitting version of the Staples Singers’ delicately rousing Freedom Highway will sound much better live – but the raw immediacy of Lynval Golding’s voice on Get Up, Stand Up is as powerful and moving as its sound. BLM monologue on Bis.