The Specials have released a new album, called Encore.
Created at the time of Rock Against Racism in 1978, The Specials have always been a political band. It seems the present political situation is so dire that it has roused The Specials to their first original material in forty years. I enjoyed the results. Vocalist and guitarist Lynval Golding’s tells an affecting story of his childhood move from Jamaica to England. The track where smiling EDL opponent Saffiyah Khan updates Prince Buster’s Ten Commandments Of Man also works well. I liked the bit about makeup, and minds made up.
The thing that really grabbed me about the album was the way it captured the chaotic current political situation. On Encore there’s a track called Vote for Me, which has familiar sentiments about a politician who is out of touch, living in an ivory tower. There’s nothing very ground breaking about that, aside from the way it chimes with the populist mood of the moment. But then the very next track is the old Fun Boy Three song, The Lunatics Have Taken Over the Asylum. This is a very different political sentiment, because it gives the sense that there is a small group of competent people who run the asylum; and it’s definitely not a good thing when their charges get their crazy hands on the handles of power.
When you come down to it that’s the problem. You can be a political band, representing your audience of boys and girls/men and women-in-the-street to the smooth people in the corridors of power. But what happens when those ordinary folks stride down the corridors themselves?
Bands with a political bent might write songs about out of touch politicians, but the logical conclusion of that populist sentiment is the electoral success of a vulgar, dishonest real-estate entrepreneur who knows nothing about politics or national administration, who wins office with an emotion-driven message directed at the lowest instincts in people, and then runs a predictably chaotic, incompetent government. Another manifestation of this Vote for Me populism is the ascendancy of nationalist movements intent on breaking up a Europe-wide union designed in the interests of business efficiency and peace. This populist nationalism leads to the sort of ugliness Saffiyah Khan faced down. And if a song like The Lunatics Have Taken Over the Asylum has relevance, then there it is. It’s difficult to have it both ways. It is true, politicians can become isolated in their ivory towers. Old Etonian Jacob Rees Mogg seems to me a politician who lives in just such a tower, oblivious to the effect his ideas might have on society generally. But if you despise and reject professional politicians, what happens to the asylum after that? What happens to the plane if the passengers decide to fly it themselves? It’s a never ending conundrum, a swinging pendulum of opinion which has reached one of the extreme ends of its swing.