This is the dawning of an old era.
This is the dawning of an old era. Josh Cheuse

The Specials, "The Lunatics" (Universal)

Totemic 2 Tone ska group the Specials have returned with their first album in 18 years, Encore, and it's better than your typical comeback LP. It includes "Vote for Me," a skewed rewrite of perhaps the band's greatest song, "Ghost Town," and a clutch of tensile and socio-politically conscious funk, dub, and ska tunes. Live recordings of old faves round out this welcome release.

This incarnation of the Specials features three original members: vocalist/lyricist Terry Hall, rhythm guitarist/vocalist Lynval Golding, and bassist Horace Panter. (Five other musicians—including Paul Weller's guitarist, Steve Cradock—fill out the live lineup, which you can see May 23 at the Showbox.)

"The Lunatics," as you may surmise, is a cover of the Fun Boy Three's 1981 UK hit "The Lunatics Have Taken Over the Asylum," a lugubrious lament about evil, power-mad politicians—which therefore makes it timeless. The version by FB3 (who included Hall and Golding; the latter now lives in Gig Harbor) is marked by a wonderfully laggard and chunky rhythm, somehow coming across as at once spare and gravid.

The Specials' revamp opens with Nikolaj Torp Larsen's momentous piano fanfare before cruising into a richly skanking dub bass line, melodica plaints, horn-burnished choruses, and Hall's resigned vocals. They tastefully flesh out the original, adding quasi-chamber-orchestral embellishments while retaining the furrowed-brow tension. Sadly, the song's message resonates more urgently than ever in the age of Trump and Brexit.