If you've lost track of all this at any point, by the way, there's a full set of links over there top right. Meanwhile, guest number fifteen (we did the first one, remember) stepping up to the plate is about as close as we've come so far to making this a celebrity feature - games journalist of specialist infamy, Plan B contributor and currently putting words to paper in the form of the acclaimed Phonogram comic, Kieron Gillen:
Rhoda & The Special AKA - The Boiler
The Boiler is a song that everyone really needs to hear at least once.
After that, it’s your call.
Things to note about the Boiler before you listen. This was released by the Specials at the height of their powers. It received - unsurprisingly - no airplay. It was still a Top 40 hit. I’ll repeat the last one, as it floors me almost as much as the record: this was a hit single.
With those facts in mind, go listen to it. I’ll wait here.
Yeah, I know.
You’ve listened to it once. As I said, now it’s your call. It’s not exactly one which lives on anyone’s ITunes playlist. It’s not one someone’s gone down the aisle too. It doesn’t get dropped at five to two for the hands-in the-air crowd-pleaser. It’s an unforgettable record, and as a pop artefact, unique.
The Boiler’s a difficult record to write about, because it says just about all that needs to be said. A confessional first-person narrative from the eponymous Boiler over an obviously jolly little ska-lounge beat.
Musically and lyrically, it’s phenomenally clever and phenomenally obvious. Put simply, it fucks with you. Juxtaposing that beat with the portrait of this downbeat woman you may think it’s another one of the Specials' quasi-misogynist pieces a la Too Much Too Young. You think that maybe you’re meant to find her stupid, funny, laughable.
Yeah. You unspeakable shit.
The morphing of the music from this initial start into something more macabre, a sort of lounge-goth, while the narrative is going increasingly to a bad place is expertly done. I first heard the Boiler about a decade before it came out, but writing now I can almost twin it with the Miike Takeshi film Audition. You know that something is wrong, and the sense of dread accumulates until it’s impossible to breath. And then it releases.
While a 'favourite' bit isn’t really the right words, the section I think about is when the potential is thickest. Rhoda’s monologue’s been keeping a similar vocabulary throughout, and it’s here where it twists. "There were all this little alleyways and... railway bridges." A gap as isolated as the pair of them before the payoff. "Stink of piss." And from there on, it’s no longer the question of whether it’s actually going to happen. Our Boiler’s too far down that alleyway.
And over the screams, the beat races away, the arpeggiated keyboards blurring like someone making its escape.
It’s one of the bravest pop records ever released by a major British band. Next time someone talks about how challenging their new direction is going to be, compare and contrast whatever they’ve done to this. I suspect it’ll be lacking.