EDITORS’ NOTES

Although they’ve been reunited since 2008, British ska pioneers Terry Hall, Lynval Golding, and Horace Panter had not recorded together as The Specials since laying down 1981’s era-defining “Ghost Town.” If that bred any trepidation about making an album again, it proved unfounded when they convened in 2018. “It was lovely because we were all facing the same way,” bassist Panter tells Apple Music. “We surrounded ourselves with great musicians, making the best music we possibly could. It was really joyous—how I always thought albums ought be made, really.” That serenity has not blunted the band’s edge—Encore is as vital a document of a turbulent world as “Ghost Town” was almost four decades before, contemplating misogyny, racism, crime, and mental health with precision, invention, and a musical palette that stretches from ska to polka. Here, Panter takes us through the joyous experience, track by track.

“Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys”
“We decided on some covers first. Terry and Lynval came up with The Equals’ version of ‘Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys.’ They were both of the opinion that The Equals were the first multiracial British pop group. It’s an anti-war song. Our version is a little slower because we’d been listening to a lot of Talking Heads, LCD Soundsystem, and that sort of stuff. We wanted this New York-y funk thing going down.”

“B.L.M”
“We’d been listening to Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ and [dub poet] Linton Kwesi Johnson—those spoken-word reggae pieces from the ’70s. It was a platform for Lynval to relay his experiences of being an immigrant—in England in the ’60s and again when he moved to America in the ’90s. We had to be almost dispassionate about it and say, ‘No, Lynval, you can’t waffle on for 32 bars. You’ve got to condense your meaning into 16 bars.’ It was an exercise in how to channel emotion.”

“Vote for Me”
“This was a bassline that I’d had around for two or three years. Steve Cradock, our guitar player, played this alternative guitar line which was actually a bit better than the verse bassline. So I changed it to copy what Steve had put down, which instantly gave it a lot of space. And I was absolutely thrilled when Tim Smart, our trombone player, put the solo down, because it’s remarkable. Lyrically, it’s to do with disenchantment—with politics, there’s nobody you can trust.”

“The Lunatics”
“This was the first Fun Boy Three [Hall and Golding’s post-Specials band] song. It’s prescient still—especially as Lynval is an American citizen now. He’s aware of things that are going on over there. The original version was sort of anti-music, that primal percussion, whereas this has got a lot more music in it. It’s got a Cuban, Latin feel to it. We listened to Sly & Robbie, those albums they did with Grace Jones—that’s musically where it comes from.”

“Breaking Point”
“Terry said, ‘I want this thing that just sounds mad—something that’s got this kind of world music vibe, but I don’t know what.’ It was just: go nuts. And we did. We listened to some Tom Waits and some Doors. Tim brought his tuba in and doubled up the bassline. We threaded a piece of paper through the strings of Steve’s acoustic guitar, which is why it sounds so f***ed up. There’s this amazing sort of pipe organ which appears on it as well. It ain’t rock ’n’ roll, I know that much [laughs]. Terry’s got some wonderful one-liners in it.”

“Blam Blam Fever”
“I came along with a version of The Valentines’ [anti-gun song] ‘Blam Blam Fever.’ We’d started touring America and I got fascinated with the gun culture, the fact that you can buy them in supermarkets. The way it’s sold, it’s “Personal protection when you need it most!” and “Eight great assault rifles for under $1000!” I still feel extraordinary when I see police with guns at airports in England, but in America it’s all over the place, all the time. We wrote the extra verse at the end to bring it up to date a bit.”

“10 Commandments”
“Prince Buster’s ‘Ten Commandments of Man’ has not traveled very well over the course of history. It’s a sexist, misogynist kind of thing. So we thought, ‘How about we update it?’ Then we thought, ‘What if [activist and artist] Saffiyah [Khan] did the “10 Commandments of Women”?’ We met Saffiyah because she’d had this photograph taken where she was facing down this EDL [English Defence League, a UK far-right movement] bloke. She was like, ‘Yep, when do you want it by?’ Originally, we’d been trying to make it sound like Sleaford Mods. But then we started playing it live and it became great, this relentless heavy reggae thing, this mad dub.”

“Embarrassed by You”
“Before, it was ‘Hope I die before I get old’—the young people complaining about old people. But now [with this track] it’s the old people complaining about young people. This was a song that was written by Lynval and a gentleman called Mark Adams, who’s been a musical collaborator with Lynval for a while. It’s probably the most traditional Specials tune on the record.”

“The Life and Times (Of a Man Called Depression)”
“I think Terry had wanted to write about the condition that he has—and how he deals with it, or doesn’t deal with it, or didn’t deal with it—for quite some time. He was going, ‘I want it to be in 5/4. I was sitting on the bus, humming it into my phone, and the woman in front of me turned round and glared at me.’ So it sort of came out of the air. We went in and did it and [drummer] Kenrick [Rowe] just nailed it. It’s turned out beautifully.”

“We Sell Hope”
“This is: ‘Actually, it’s not all miserable! We know you’ve had a really miserable half-hour listening to our record, but here’s some good stuff! We are positive about things.’ It’s nice and compact. It could have been seven minutes long, it could have ended up like [Pink Floyd’s nine-part song series] ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond.’ But, no, let’s just make it a pop record.”