Fun Boy Three

Live on the Test: The Old Grey Whistle Test Series

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Since Fun Boy Three only lasted for a couple of years after the original Specials disbanded, any souvenir of the group's brief existence carries a certain amount of intrinsic interest. This live album -- most of it recorded for the U.K. radio show The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1983, shortly before the trio split -- shows that, whatever frontman Terry Hall's reason was for dissolving the band, it wasn't because the Fun Boys couldn't put their sardonic, percussion-heavy pop over in concert. Live on the Test is a strong and well-performed run through the group's slim songbook, disappointing only for the strict adherence to the studio versions of the dozen tunes, down to the guest string and horn players. Even hearing ex-Specials Hall, Lynval Golding, and Neville Staples revisit the Two Tone ska classic "Gangsters" is less than intriguing, thanks to the exceedingly faithful arrangement. Only occasionally does the infusion of performance energy alter the material, with mixed results: the Afro-beat version of Gershwin's "Summertime" is much perkier and punchier here than previously, but the group's big hit "Our Lips Are Sealed" -- introduced by Hall with characteristic dryness as "our new single...well, if you call it a single" -- loses its brooding mystery on this hurried take. Still, the strength of the songs shines through any lapses in imagination, making this the rare live album that's as useful to the group's novice fans as the dedicated collectors. [The album appends a pair of songs recorded for Radio 1, "Well Fancy That" and "Tunnel of Love," that are virtually indistinguishable from their studio versions.]

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