You really don’t need me to tell you who Neville Staple is, do you? No, thought not. In that case I will swiftly get on with the job in hand and say that Return Of Judge Roughneck sounds exactly how you would expect it to sound. That’s not always a good thing for many artists, but in Staple’s case, it merely means it is a joyous concoction of ska, reggae and dub, featuring intriguing remixes and fascinating bastardisations of old favourites. Add to the mix a few choice cover versions, and unexpected ones at that, and what you get is a thoroughly enjoyable album from start to finish.
With the present political climate, there has surely never been a more pertinent time to revive Fun Boy Three‘s 1981 classic, ‘The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum‘, and it gets more than a minor makeover, with the title being shortened to simply ‘Lunatics‘, and now containing a damning spoken word critique of the present government. The party skank of its re-imagining is one of the highlights here, as is the somewhat surprising inclusion of ‘If You Wana Be Happy‘, most famously known in its Jimmy Soul version, which topped the US Billboard chart way back in 1963. Far from the most “pc” song in the world, due to the chorus of “If you wanna be happy for the rest of your life / never make a pretty woman your wife / so from my own point of view / get an ugly girl to marry you“, somehow Staple’s rude boy delivery seems sincere and, as if to justify this, there is a monologue later in the song in which he adopts a kind of “you can’t say that about these women! All women are beautiful!” type stance. As with ‘Lunatics‘, the title of this one is shrunk to just ‘Be Happy‘.
Less surprising but no less effective is Staple’s reading of Peter Tosh‘s seminal ‘Maga Dog‘. There are probably very few songs that fit the former Special more comfortably, and a delightfully uplifting version is delivered. Amusingly, ‘Bang Bang‘ reminds me of Musical Youth, but that isn’t a criticism. Rather, it is meant to reflect the sometimes innocent charm of the album as a whole. Trainspotter types will delight in identifying various references from former glories, such as the electronic melody steal from ‘Gangsters‘ on the album’s title track, and enjoy the various new interpretations of tunes like ‘Enjoy Yourself‘, which is present here in a ‘ragtime lounge mix’. If anything, the latter song is representative of pretty much everything Staple has been involved in. And you will.
Return Of Judge Roughneck is released on the 17th of February through Cleopatra Records.