Album Reviews / February 2023
February 1, 2023

by Alex Lucas

Whilst some like to explore romantic albums of times gone by in February, we’ve opted to bring you the music of Billy Nomates and The Specials, who we just couldn’t leave out this month.

Billy Nomates – CACTI 

January was a bit of a blast from the past, Iggy Pop, along with Belle and Sebastian released records to a warm reception. Rozi Plain and Margo Price added some folk and country flair, respectively, with a strong album each but the year’s first album of the month is CACTI, from Billy Nomates. It’s tough to label Billy Nomates’ sound, there’s a definite tinge of post punk in there but mixed with all the best elements of contemporary musical production. This is one of the most sonically rewarding records you’re likely to hear this year, each element of the instrumental make up of this album is brought out to create an effulgent wall of sound. 

Nomates also shows herself to be a captivating vocalist and presence across CACTI, not once getting lost in the instrumentals but completely owning them. The rip-roaring bass kicking the record off at the start of ‘balance is gone’ sets the tone, it’s punchy and vivacious, but also very catchy, the main characteristics underpinning the tracks across the record. The next few tracks continue along this trend, before ‘spite’, the seventh track, reinstates the authority the opening track had laid down, with the strongest vocal performance on the LP over the top of some seriously powerful instrumentation. There’s no let up going into the close of the record, ‘vertigo’, in particular, is a glorious track. 

This really is a top drawer album, in so many ways. The assertive vocals are brilliant throughout, the lyrical themes are well conveyed and the instrumentation is just sublime. If you want to get the maximum out of this album, lend it to your best speakers or headphones to let the fullness of the sound really work. A brilliant, highly enjoyable record, and it’s February’s album of the month. 

The Specials – The Specials

A truly great frontman left us in December in Terry Hall. The frontman of Coventry’s finest; The Specials. With February being the month that The Specials first shot to number one on the UK Charts with ‘Too Much Too Young’, in February 1980, it’s fitting to look back at their excellent debut record The Specials. Coventry was a city which had been decimated by bombing raids in the Second World War. Coventry changed a great deal following the war but by the 1980s, Coventry was beginning to suffer again, largely down to the decline in the British motor industry (most notably captured in 1981 hit ‘Ghost Town’), from the mire, emerged The Specials. 

Fuelled by disenchantment and the punk spirit, The Specials became the greatest musical embodiment of the state of industrial Britain in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Their self titled album in October 1979 is a fantastic commentary on what Terry Hall and co saw around them, but from a musical standpoint, it’s often sprightly and so very enjoyable. 

The opener, a cover of ‘A Message to You, Rudy’ is possibly their best known and a great start to an album littered with brilliant ska tunes. ‘Nite Klub’, ‘Do the Dog’ and ‘Monkey Man’ keep the tempo high throughout. The chemistry between Neville Staples and Terry Hall despite contrasting vocal styles is a crucial part of what made The Specials who they were and an allegory of the wider message of the group.

The Specials at that time were such a fundamental part of the British musical identity, the changing social fabric of the country was so present in their sound and they assimilated all of their ideals, both political and musical, to craft an essential part of popular culture.