Guilty ’til Proved Innocent!
Way Cool Music/MCA
I don’t have a problem with bands that get back together. I don’t even begrudge a band for doing so sans a few original members. Hell, I don’t even mind when people are out to make a buck; most acts from the ’80s making a comeback now probably didn’t even make all that much money during their original runs, anyway. What I have a problem with is when a band realizes their name is a commodity and capitalizes on that without any love or care, simply because they can. Sadly, that’s all I hear on most of the tracks on Guilty ’til Proved Innocent!, the new record from the reunited Specials. Most of the tracks are devoid of passion or fun, as if the band was just going through the motions to pick up a paycheck.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a few good moments to be found on this record, but they’re few and far between. “It’s You” and “Fearful” are both high caliber singalongs, capturing a glimmer of the old Specials magic, for example. Unfortunately, though, the band seems more content to recycle the past than to move forward. “Tears in my Beer” sounds like a poor attempt to recapture the atmosphere of their classic “Nite Klub.” “Running Away” blatantly rips off Toots and the Maytals’ “Monkey Man,” a song they covered years ago. Ultimately, though, the biggest moment of sadness is when “Bonediggin'” cops the riff from the theme to The Munsters, a tune that at least three other ska bands have done full covers of. The Specials used to be innovators, now they’re just pale imitations, not only of themselves, but of ska in general. Yeah, most of the tracks are pretty catchy, but they lack substance.
I wouldn’t even really have a problem with the Specials living in the past (after all, their past is more interesting than a lot of bands’ present), if only they could do so convincingly. Sadly, at the risk of sounding like a bitchy old-school fan, they just can’t do that without original members Terry Hall and Jerry Dammers. Just listen to the three “bonus live tracks” tacked onto the end of the record, newly recorded versions of the classics “Rat Race,” “Concrete Jungle,” and “Gangsters.” Now go pull out your dusty old copy of the Specials debut album and compare. Terry Hall’s voice had such a distinctive bite that Roddy Radiation, the band’s original guitarist, can’t come close to mimicking it. Meanwhile, I wince every time I hear the attempts at recreating Jerry Dammers’ keyboard wizardry. Basically, the record is pretty much a wash from start to finish. Skip this and pick up the classic first album or The Singles Collection, either will give you a better picture of why the Specials were something worth revering than this monstrosity does. Me, I’ll stay away from the “new” Specials’ records until they become the old Specials again.