Album review: Return of Judge Roughneck | Neville Staple

“Court in session! Hush’up!”

It’s the return of the original rude boy, Neville Staple, marking the Return of Judge Roughneck, here to preside over a Britain in a Brexit breakdown.

Formally of seminal ska-revivalists, The Specials, and with 35-years of skanking behind him, Staple is back, fondly flying the tattered flag of ska, reggae and dub.

It’s a double album of something borrowed, something new; reworked covers and bastardisations of Staple’s own back catalogue.

Case in point, the reintroduction of Judge Roughneck, last seen on his former band’s Stupid Marriage (1979) – a character itself lifted from Prince Buster’s Judge Dread (1967). It’s a sprightly and familiar opener, full of those Specials hallmarks – electric carnival organ, that distinctive “chk-chk-chk” guitar stroke, horns a-plenty.

Likewise, Run, with its invitation to “kick up ya boot and run, come” is certain to have your dad stomping up a sweat in the sitting room.

But where The Specials rallied against Thatcher’s crumbling Britain so effectively, Staple’s attempts to address life in 2017 are a little less so. Sure, he may rejig his own Lunatics (originally performed with Fun Boy Three in 1982) to include news reports on ISIS defectors and failing food banks. But songs like Crime Don’t Pay (discouraging “looting, booting, robbing and shooting”) and Politician Man sail a little too close to self-parody. 

The superb cover of Jimmy Soul’s If You Wanna Be Happy (1963), on the other hand, is a real Trojan horse of a song, veering from mock-chauvinist (“get an ugly girl to marry you”) to an endearingly sweet ode to espousal.

But mostly, it’s a feel-good album following a reliable formula, epitomised by the album closer: the music hall standard and Specials sing-a-long, Enjoy Yourself, delivered in “lounge-room” style, complete with clink of glasses and drunken toasts.

Plus, as a two-for-one deal, the second half of the album is nothing but bass-heavy, dub versions of the first. So depending on your mood, or vice of choice, it would appear Neville has you covered.

“Hush’up! Take ‘em away”


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