In The Studio
(2 Tone/EMI Catalogue0
Uncut, May 2002
by Simon Reynolds
contrast with this review from the Nineties of a 2-Tone box-set for an example of personal Drops Away Syndrome, (see also) although when I say "personal" it probably somewhat reflected a forgetting of the 2-Tone / ska moment in the general UK pop culture
This was done for the Wire, but as I recall, never published - bastards!
THE COMPACT TWO-TONE STORY (Chrysalis)
by Simon Reynolds
It could be argued that reggae was to punk, what the blues was
to the counter-culture: the black form that white rockers modulated
and mutated, the black existential stance and sensibility on which
the white-negro bohemia modeled itself. And so the post-punk
progressives (PiL et al) seized on dub as a source for a new anti-
rockist head-music, for a new vocabulary of alienation and exile.
Meanwhile, the populists carried on punk's anti-hippy ethos by
fastening on the Jamaican ska beloved of the original hippy-haters,
the skinheads, but remotivating it with Rock Against Racism idealism.
Unlike the white rasta elitists, Two Tone was about fun rather than
spirituality, trebley 7 inch brevity rather than bass-heavy 12 inch
expanse, pop rather than prog. For two years, Two Tone was the sound
This excessively comprehensive 4-CD retrospective contains the A and B side of each and every Two Tone hit and miss. But since two of the ska revival's three talents, The Beat and Madness, were only on Two Tone for their debuts, it's the stuff by The Specials' that matters here (Roddy Radiation, The Bodysnatchers, The Appollinaires etc should never have been disinterred). While "Gangsters"'s paranoid palsied urgency still sounds wonderfully monochrome, other early Specials singles sound merely grey: the chiding "Message To You Rudy", "Too Much Too Young" (whose put-down of a teenage mum had a nasty misogynist edge in the tradition of Sixties social realist B/W movies).
Grey was always Two Tone's fault and occasional forte. After a
brief dally with technicolour (Jerry Dammers' strange and charming
muzak infatuation on the second album, represented here by
"Stereotype" and "International Jet Set"), The Specials returned to
drab urban gloom for their masterpiece, the lugubrious "Ghost Town".
Number One for a month in the troubled Summer of '81, this was
agit-pop at its most effective (evocative rather than anthemic,
showing the anguish wreaked by the System rather than sloganeering).
Who'd have thought then, that the UK's social fabric would be even more frayed and threadbare, that we'd be even deeper in the socio-economic abyss?
After "Ghost Town" The Specials slipped off the face of the charts, as New Pop ruled the roost and The Specials' sanctimony ("Racist Friend", "War Crimes") started to seem dated. The third album turned into a 'Heavens' Gate'-scale
fiscal calamity, Dammers lost "In The Studio", neurotically addling
all the vitality out of the music.
These relics from a strangely sealed-off pocket in Brit-pop time
induce a sepia-tinted, nostalgic melancholy, perhaps because Two Tone itself was thoroughly nostalgic (many of its big hits were covers). Ska was the first of the post-punk po-mo revivalisms, rifling through the archives rather than (mis)appropriating contemporaraneous black-pop styles. Born dated, it has left no legacy.