27 Jan 2012

The Coral - Beginner's Guide

Liverpool's The Coral are to my mind the most interesting and consistent band to have come out of England in the last 10 years. Incorporating obvious Mersey influences like the Beatles, Shack, The La's and Teardrop explodes they also owe a debt to various U.S West Coast psych outfits, as well as Love and the Byrds. Obviously they've got some pretty big boots to fill then, so it's just as well that they bring some cracking good tunes to the party. Big in the U.K, but fairly obscure over here in N.Z, it's time they received a wider worldwide audience. Here's a look at their output so far....
The Coral ( 2002 )
Their debut brought them critical raves, and with good reason. Probably their most varied release, this ranges from energetic sixties style rave ups like Dreaming of You, Goodbye and Waiting for the Heartaches, to more experimental pieces incorporating heavy psychedelia, dub-style production and sea shanties. Impressively diverse and confident for a debut, they haven't made another album that sounds quite like this one since. ( 9/10 )

Magic & Medicine ( 2003 )
An impressive follow up, this is a little less experimental. It's also from a critical view not quite as good as the first album, but to me at least, a more enjoyable listen. Secret Kiss and Pass it On are timeless singles which you can easily picture on the sixties charts,  Talkin' Gypsy Market Blues channels Dylan's Thin Wild Mercury Sound, and Don't Think You're the First and Bill McCai are enjoyably sinister. Meanwhile Liezah may well be their best ballad.        ( 8/10 )

Nightfreak & the Sons of Becker ( 2004 )
Legend has it that the band spontaneously threw this together in a matter of a week or so, with many of the tracks written off the cuff during the sessions. Released as a mini album, this was intended more as a stop-gap reward for loyal fans, than an album proper and no singles were released from it. It's got a ramshackle charm, and has plenty of interesting experimental moments and some solid tunes, but lacks the one or two killer tracks required to keep bringing you back to it. Fun for the converted ( who it's intended for anyway ), but not recommended for the novice. ( 5/10 )

The Invisible Invasion ( 2005 )
Bringing in Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley from Portishead to produce their third album worked fantastically. While this album seems to have it's share of detractors, I think it's one of their strongest. Pursuing the moodier sound they'd experimented with on Don't Think You're the First, this is a much darker album than they'd hinted at previously. The sunshine pop of their earlier albums still managed to break through on a few tracks, noticeably Something Inside of Me, but elsewhere Doors influenced psychedelia takes over resulting in some of their best work up to this point with the creepy A Warning to the Curious a highlight, which manages to convincingly cop the atmosphere of the M.R James story which provided it's title. ( 9/10 )

Roots & Echoes ( 2007 )
Another album with a middling reputation, this is an excellent collection which strikes the best balance between their light and dark sides that they've managed to capture on record so far. Put The Sun Back and Who's Gonna Find Me show just how easily they can turn out top notch guitar pop with a hint of melancholy. Towards the end of the album is where things get particularly interesting though, especially with the mysterious Music at Night, and She's Got A Reason, which has a fantastic fuzz guitar outro which may just be my favorite recorded moment of theirs. ( 8/10 )

Singles Collection  ( 2008 )
This paints a pretty compelling portrait of the Coral as one of the best singles bands of the decade, and while not showcasing their diversity as well as their albums do, on a track by track basis this is peerless sixties style sunshine guitar pop. New track Being Somebody Else fits in nicely among the established gems. The ideal starting point for the newcomer. ( 10/10 )

Mysteries & Rarities ( 2008 )
Included as a bonus disc with some versions of the Singles Collection, this is equal parts fascinating and frustrating. A bits and pieces collection to give big fans another reason to buy the Singles Collection, it's fascinating to hear how good some of the album outtakes are ( and why weren't they used as b-sides at some point? ), but frustrating for several other reasons. There are a couple of decidedly lo-fi live covers which break the flow up a little, and a few too many demos of existing tracks, where I would rather have heard perhaps a few more of their very high quality b-sides. Hopefully they were holding them back for a full b-sides collection - they've got enough for an excellent triple CD set of them by now. I reckon there's definitely a market for it, so how about it boys? ( 5/10 )

Butterfly House ( 2010 ) / Butterfly House Acoustic ( 2010 )
With guitarist Bill Ryder-Jones having left previous to the recording of this album, it's no wonder that this sounds a little different to previous albums. Production wise there's a much denser sound here, which made it a little more difficult for me to get into than previous albums. There's also a much more pronounced sixties West Coast influence with a lot more harmonies and guitar jangle. Roving Jewel shows more of an awareness of traditional folk music than they've displayed in the past, and the title track is a thunderous epic which builds to a mighty crescendo. They also released an acoustic version of this album, which has a much more organic sound and gives the songs a bit more space to breathe. ( 7/10 ) ( For both versions )

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