Surprising return for Britain’s Specials

This cover image released by Island Records shows "Encore," a release by The Specials. (Island Records via AP)

(AP) — Given that it’s been 20 years since there’s been new music from the Specials, who led a ska revival in Britain at the dawn of the 1980s that had little imprint on the U.S., it’s reasonable to approach “Encore” with few expectations.

Time for an adjustment. This is a bracingly fresh and relevant disc, by no means a limp nostalgia exercise. The Specials fight through cynicism in politics and address gun control, women’s rights and Black Lives Matter without sounding like scolds.

“Vote for Me” puts modern politicians to the test behind a rock steady groove that musically echoes the band’s 1981 hit “Ghost Town.” Lynval Goulding ties together racism experienced by him and his Jamaican immigrant father in Britain and the United States in “BLM.” Guest vocalist Saffiyah Khan’s “Ten Commandments” is a feminist anthem. “I shall not be candy on your arm,” she raps. “I shall be seen and I will be heard.” Elsewhere, singer Terry Hall explains depression in a moving spoken-word piece.

The Specials smoothly update their sound, with the 1970s-style funk of the opening cover song, “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys,” similarly signaling the past won’t box them in.

“Encore” contains a second disc with live versions of past favorites from a recent tour. Probably intended to entice old fans, it’s strictly a bonus. The new music stands on its own.

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