Rounding up songs from singles, EPs, albums and a compilation contribution, Special Wild 1989-1994 tells the Skinnerbox NYC story so far, from their 1989 debut cassette through a hat trick of 1994 releases. From the get-go the group were determined not to be pigeonholed, and their cassette album Instrumental Conditioning was all over the map, albeit the map of Jamaica. More than a third of Special Wild showcases songs off of this set, as the group determinedly set course through the island's many musical waters. The innovative sounds of "Ragamuffin Dub," the more down and dirty dub of "Red Eye," the Latin-tinged "Danny's Duelin'," the urban flavored "Promise," and detouring to the U.K. for the Steel Pulsey "Tax It Twice," Skinnerbox proved themselves adept at all facets of the island sound. In fact, it was the only thing when the band turned its hand to the third wave, that they proved less than proficient. More impressive was the band's particularly light-fingered way with a melody. "Promise," for instance, beautifully intertwines the hook from "Rudy a Message to You," while "Don't Judge a Book" reprises an adaptation of the Bee Gees' "Staying Alive." "Falafel Hoummous," in contrast, is a delectable tribute to the Skatalites with its pure pumping ska and an exotic eastern flavor. Those two latter numbers both appeared on the band's 1993 album Tales of the Red. Elsewhere on the set, Skinnerbox's love of deep roots is brought to the fore with "Help Me" and "Move Like Ya Gone." Both numbers feature toasting, the former in thrall to Michael Rose's Waterhouse style, the latter boasting the machine gun-splatter style of late-'80s DJs. "L.K.O./Scatta" moved the band straight into the dancehall, showcasing both modern toasting and sing-jaying. Dancehall also featured on their 1984 Sunken Treasure EP, along with jazzier stylings that lit up both the title track and "Sing Love." And still, the band were evolving, with funk coming to the fore on "Right Side," a song featured on the flip of the band's 1994 "Does He Love You?" single. Even better was still to come, as Skinnerbox's later albums were to prove, but this is where they started it all, and a fascinating musical journey it's been.
AllMusic Review by Jo-Ann Greene