Today's Specials: Ska A La '90s

Recently reunited '70s pioneers of punked-up ska back with plans for new LP in '98.

Sure, bands like No Doubt, Smash Mouth, Reel Big Fish do a fine job giving ska

a fresh '90s spin. But take it from Neville Staples, there's more to ska than

thrifting for two-tone suits and porkpie hats.

"These American bands have their own style, right?" asked Staples, vocalist for

the recently re-formed kings of second generation ska, the Specials. "Just like

we put our own English style on the ska in the '70s, which was the rock, the

punk. Americans are not taking from the original blue beat, but from us and then

putting their own tune on it. I think it's brilliant."

Staples, along with original bassist Horace Panter and guitarist Lynval Golding,

have reformed the Coventry, England band (except songwriter Jerry Dammers

and singer Terry Hall, who refused to participate), to record another album, due

in early '98 on Way Cool Records. "It took a bit of time, right?" said Staples, the

Santa Cruz, Calif.-based vocalist who said he was glad to be back with his

mates after a decade-plus apart. "It's like finding me feet again and it surprised

me."

The original band released a classic self-titled album in 1979 and went on to

record such hallmark second-wave ska tunes as "Racist Friend" and "Free

Nelson Mandela," mixing not just punk and ska, but music and a message in

bold and unprecedented ways.

Following one of their biggest hits, 1981's "Ghost Town," the band fell apart with

Hall, Staples and Golding going on to form Fun Boy Three. Dammers reformed

the band later that year under the band's original name, Special AKA.

Panter, 44, who has most recently been playing with a mix of the Specials and

their contemporaries in the English Beat in an amalgam called Special Beat, said that band's recent touring was the seed for the reunion.

"I knew ska was starting to take off again in America when we would play the

Beat's 'Save it For Later' at shows and these young kids would just go

bananas," said Panter, who toured for several years with the band before

settling into the job his parents always wanted him to pursue, elementary school

teacher.

"Some of us got together for a Desmond Dekker tribute in 1993," Panter said.

"Then some shows in Japan were offered, and I felt a bit peculiar about doing it

without Terry and Jerry, but we worked up 15-16 songs we knew well and

figured if we were to make fools of ourselves, better to do it half-way around the

world than in our own back yard. We went on and tore the place up."

The band also gained the confidence to record a still-untitled new album, due in

February. The album, now being recorded in the U.S., will be the band's first

ever with all original tunes. Among those scheduled for inclusion are new

compositions such as "Call Me Names," "Fearful," "Bone Digging," "All Gone

Wrong," "Man With No Name" and "It's You."

As a tip of the hat to their idols, Lars Fredricksen and Tim Armstrong of Rancid

invited several of the Specials to guest on their new album, scheduled for a

March release. They then returned the favor by doing a bit of "toasting," rap/

singing, on a still untitled track on the Specials album. Members of No Doubt

and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones have also been tapped for contributions.

"We're not living in the past, right," Staples said. "We're mixing everything we do

with the now generation. If you put this new album on, it will sound like the

Specials, but up-to-date because we're doing the same thing we've always

done. If something's fucked-up with the government, we write about it. If my life

is fucked-up, I write about it."

Color="#720418">[Mon., Oct. 27, 1997, 9 a.m. PDT]