The Specials

Today's Specials

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To dispense with the easy shot first, the Specials are but a pale imitation of yesterday's heroes, and Today's Specials not only adds nothing to their legacy, it also dissipates much of the old magic.

Once the group provided vision, excitement, and inspiration, but this set is so derivative and insipid, it should come with a disclaimer. Then again, those totally out of touch with the music scene may find its blend of bland pop, tedious drum programming, and borrowed toasting both satisfying and fresh. Certainly the choice of covers is astute -- a clutch of Jamaican classics interspersed with the odd pop and punk number. In some cases "odd" is the imperative word. Their version of Neil Diamond's "A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You" will have the listener reassessing the Monkees' original, perhaps realizing for the first time just what a level of pop perfection the quartet hit. Meanwhile, the Specials are reaching new lows, arguably hitting a nadir with the club rhythm and country & western-flavored take on the Clash's "Somebody Got Murdered." Still, even they can't wreck "Simmer Down" -- this song was arguably Bob Marley's denouement, at least as far as catchy melodies go, and no matter what a band throws at it, the tune reasserts itself in all its glory. And what the group is tossing with abandonment throughout this set is a layer of digitized beats, the kind that are pre-programmed (just hit the button marked "jungle"). Perhaps it's merely those omnipresent rhythms that bleed any sense of excitement right out of this set, but the glossy, spic-and-span-clean production doesn't help, nor does the ripped-straight-from-U-Roy toasting splattered about. Overall a mediocre album that kicks off strong with a smoky, clubby, atmospheric take on the ubiquitous instrumental "Take Five," but only the calypso-flavored "007" and the enthusiastic "Pressure Drop" further spice up this tapioca-esque offering.

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