If you're a serious ska fan, you're probably aware that the Selecter -- one of the major groups of the 2-Tone-led U.K. ska revival of the late '70s and early '80s -- broke up in 1982, but reunited in 1991, with various lineups of the group touring and recording ever since. However, the Selecter's 2015 release Subculture has been hailed as a comeback among folks who don't regularly wear pork pie hats, and it's certainly true this is a much stronger album than the sizable majority of the material that's been released under the group's name since 1992. The only members of the original Selecter lineup that recorded 1980's classic Too Much Pressure that appear on Subculture are vocalists Pauline Black and Arthur "Gaps" Hendrickson, and the good news is that both are in fine voice, especially Black, who in many respects is a stronger and more nuanced performer than she was in her youth. Subculture is also a robust set of songs, divided between songs of romantic discord ("Open Goal," "It Never Worked Out") and more conscious observations of social and political strife (most significantly "Breakdown," very much in the manner of the Specials' classic "Ghost Town," and "Karma"), as well as an inspired cover of the Patti Smith hit "Because the Night." But while the Selecter's most memorable material from their first era was hot-wired uptempo ska, Subculture is dominated by slower rhythms that fall somewhere between original Jamaican ska sounds and roots reggae, and though the band is tight and emphatic, it doesn't always sound like the Selecter longtime fans remember. (There's also no participation from Neol Davies, the band's founder and original guitarist who wrote most of the Selecter's hits.) But simply viewed as a contemporary ska album, Subculture is fine stuff with some inspired moments and consistently engaging performances, and if your tastes run to the old school in both ska and reggae, this should be just what your sound system has been missing lately.
by Mark Deming