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The Coral

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    The Coral

    Skelton Key EP
    Skeleton Key / Dressed Like A Cow / Darkness / Sheriff John Brown

    'I AM SHIPWRECKED ON THE ROCKS!!!!!!!!' and then the Captain Beefheart guitars kick in. In this age ( summer 2002 at the time of writing ) of recycled Stooges riffs and seemingly every new band sounding the same as the last new band, Liverpool group The Coral are simply a breath of fresh air. Sounding like Captain Beefheart isn't exactly the wisest commercial move, but it's a sound that's rarely been as sucessfully captured as it has been here. The lyrics are growled and shouted out, the track sounds completely exhilaratingly demented.... it's bloody fantastic! Of the supporting tracks, 'Dressed Like A Cow' bears a nasty resemblance to forgotten Liverpool popsters Space, but apart from that - the guitars retain enough bite, and the harmonies are interesting. 'Darkness' opens all folky guitars and harmonica, and suddenly it throws you. The differing styles demonstrated through just the first three songs on this EP are already more 'differing' than the acclaimed White Stripes entire career for example. But, that's not really important. If you happen to be reading this review in the year 2005, when The Coral have either become an acclaimed cult group, or simply forgotten, my reference to The White Stripes ( who were they? ) may not make much sense anyway! Let's just say 'Darkness' is slightly strange, an undercurrent of something not quite normal or right. I can't exactly explain it. Maybe its the sound in the background during the fade towards the end of the song that sounds like a kazoo. It might not be a kazoo, mind.

    Closing song, 'Sheriff John Brown' continues The Corals unusual mixture of sounds, and the lyrics are completely charming, sung in a strange voice for a Liverpudlian - and with a little Animals 'House Of The Rising Son' guitar line underneath. Yes, these guys are rooted in The Sixties, but they seem to not hold The Sixties as something to be ripped off, rather The Sixties as a fact of life, as natural as breathing. That they still infuse their own character into these influences should say something to you about the group.

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    top of page The Coral 8 ( 2002 )
    Spanish Main / I Remember When / Shadows Fall / Dreaming Of You / Simon Diamond / Goodbye / Waiting For The Heartaches / Skeleton Key / Wild Fire / Bad Man / Calendars & Clocks

    Do you want a Beatles harmony part, an Animals ( vaguely ) sounding vocal part? Some Russian folk music, some Captain Beefheart guitar? The Coral sound genuinely different, although the production lends itself to a Sixties kind of vibe, very raw and unpolished in terms of performance, although certainly not shambolic. When The Coral go into a riffing Beefheart guitar part, the playing is actually totally together, but The Coral are not out to impress with the quality of the playing, they are not interested in producing a record that sounds glossy but they don't want it to sound like shit either. I'm talking sonics, performances, fidelity. The actual songs are all good and The Coral have left themselves somewhere to go. This isn't an album that's a masterpiece - it's an album with a lack of ego, The Coral just do their thing. 'Their thing' seems to come naturally to them, although as i've hinted, the songs - the compositions themselves, show signs of craft, and yeah, a little ambition too. I don't want to overplay the Sixties thing, but The Coral do a few great two a half minute Sixties styled pop/rock songs here. Oh, they do other things as well, although they don't 'do techno'. Do they even exist in this century? Well, they certainly do. Are they retro? Yeah, in places - but they've combined unusual elements together. The opening 'Spanish Main' is a little sea shanty with added psychedelic rock guitar assault. The song lasts less than two minutes and is very much 'an opening song'. This is an album, see? 'I Remember When' has some cool keyboard/organ parts, a deep sounding vocal speaking of the sea freezing, birds and bees, swarming, and being better off dead. But, "I ain't goin down like that". And then the vocals scream, the guitars come to life, the harmonies come in! It's a little exciting, it really is! 'Shadows Fall' is quirky to say the least. The vocals remind me of Russian folk music, but then my knowledge of Russian folk music is limited to say the least, although I have semi-heard some Russian folk music even if that particular group were based in the English city of Leeds at the time. 'Shadows Fall' also includes spooky noises and spooky guitar and is generally spooky.

    I spoke of Sixties style two and a half minute pop/rock songs? 'Dreaming Of You' is the best here. The vocal is simply astonishing, raw and powerful. A perfectly structured song, a real piece of brilliance. Simple, unassuming. Nobody is shouting anything from rooftops. No real attempt is made to meet with any kind of zeitgeist other than by being brilliant. 'Simon Diamond' is back to strangeness. Strange lyrics, weird folky electric guitar. Nice, beautiful harmonies. Doors keyboard sounds! But, this sounds like nothing else. All of the elements are familiar but combined together very unfamiliar. But, it's still easy to grasp, very melodic. 'Goodbye' is a little bit of a stunner. Pre-Rubber Soul Beatles harmonies matched to electrifying guitar! Simple lyrics, but no simpler than anybody else's lyrics. And the harmonies, gosh! And then? THEN! Everything suddenly switches mid song, explodes in a frenzy of drums and Captain Beefheart styled guitar. The lead guitar explodes, psychedelic elements are added. This mid song instrumental section really is something! The whole song is only four minutes long, as well. It's not like they've drawn it out or anything. 'Waiting For A Heartache' is another simple but fun song, 'Skeleton Key' simply stunning, i've mentioned it in the previous review so I won't describe it here. The closing song may well be twelve minutes long when the first ten songs have reached twenty minutes in total but.... It's actually not a twelve minute song, by the way. It's a four minute song, two minutes of silence, then a six minute 'hidden' bonus track. That's rather irritating, actually! This isn't a perfect album by any means, certainly not 'smooth'. It doesn't sound contrived though, for a single second. No masterplan, no arrogance, just making music and doing it well.

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    Readers Comments

    Ross Devereaux specimen_bobjoe@hotmail.com
    I really agree with your review of this album. It's a great fun album, and like you say, it's making music well. IT definitely is not a masterpiece, but is an oddball and fun album which must be owned! It's a real 'feel-good' kind of alternative/poppy album, and I love it. Dreaming of you, shows the quirky pop-ness that this album is all about! :) good review

    John, County Kildare john.j.doyle@nuim.ie
    Good concise review, Adrian. "Goodbye" is Yardbirds circa 1966 with a large measure of Keith Richards muscle thrown in. One of the best riffs of the 21 Century. Not the most original, but who gives a fuck, it kicks ass, and that's what counts. Fantastic start to the career of a band that could be in some ways described as the British Kings Of Leon, even if they are poles apart, regarding general style and production. Great "hidden" track as well. 8.5/10.

    top of page Magic And Medicine 7 ( 2003 )
    In The Forest / Don't Think You're The First / Liezah / Talkin Gypsy Market Blues / Secret Kiss / Milkwood Blues / Bill McCai / Eskimo Lament / Careless Hands / Pass It On / All Of Our Love / Confessions Of A.D.D.D.

    Listening to a more established band than The Coral working in loosely a similar area of music, say, The Super Furry Animals - you're struck by how a group like The Super Furry Animals have worked their influences into a sound distinctly their own. This second Coral album only succeeds in confusing matters further. The Coral debut had energy, power and a bunch of catchy songs. 'Magic And Medicine' seemingly tries to have more depth. It tries to do this by not screaming so much, by not being so speedy and so much young lads having fun. The beefheart guitar is ditched, more of less, although on occasion, the sound of what might become known as 'The Coral' guitar sound is heard. In that respect, they're making progress. Elsewhere, The Coral take in Dylan rhythm and blues, associated Dylan acoustic folk ( with the very early Paul Simon sounding, quite beautiful actually 'Liezah' ) and The Doors. 'Secret Kiss' owes such an obvious debt to The Doors that it borders on parody or a mere exercise or lesson rather than anything of The Corals own making. They haven't just taken an element of The Doors - even the lyrics and the way they are sung and structured borrow heavily from The Doors - and it becomes too obvious, all of a sudden. Pretending to be Captain Beefheart is one thing, it's not exactly possible and The Coral just sounded entertainingly weird as a result. Now, they sound like they are getting a little too close to their influences. Take the Dylan influenced 'Talking Gypsy Market Blues'. It goes for a Dylan sound circa 1965, complete with guitar, organ, harmonica - etc, etc. I mean, it's FUN! But the debut Coral album had fun and just struck a chord so influences could be forgotten. The whole thing was so preposterous! As I said before, borrowing from Beefheart or The Animals is one thing. Borrowing from Dylan and The Doors isn't quite so esoteric.

    The first two singles 'Don't Think You're The First' and 'Pass It On' don't quite manage to top either 'Skeleton Key' or 'Dreaming Of Me' - and that's the problem with 'Magic And Medicine'. It proves The Coral a band worth definitely paying attention to in the future - 'Pass It On' includes country picking amongst it's many elements and it sounds assured and accomplished. The closing song here, 'Confessions Of A.D.D.D' works better than some of the other excersizes in sound. We've got a song in sections, developing as it goes along. The Coral still have enormous potential. If they stick together they can still do a classic long player, it's within their grasp. Sadly, this isn't it. 'Magic And Medicine' remains an entertaining listen, don't get me wrong. But I suspect, the next move they make - really will be make or break.

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    Readers Comments

    Aaron glenn@mitchell1818.co.uk
    This is up there with the best of this year 'pass it on' Possibly the best single of the year this album is a lot more focused than the previous album packed with classics ‘Don't Think You're The First’ ‘Secret Kiss’ to name only a couple the worst song on this album is ‘Talking Gypsy Market Blues’ come on what I they thinking this would be a perfect album to leave on if I did not have to skip this track I give it a 9 because I feel an 8 is to cheap to give an album with ‘pass it on’ secret kiss’ on it any less than a 9 is a crime.

    top of page Nightfreak And The Sons Of Becker( 2004 )
    Precious Eyes / Venom Cable / I Forgot My Name / Song Of The Corn / Sorrow Or The Song / Auntie's Operation / Why Does The Sun Come Up? / Grey Harpoon / Keep Me Company / Migraine / Lovers Paradise

    An album recorded live in as little as seven days and limited to apparently an inital run of 75,000 copies. Whilst many thought the groups second album a little too light after the dark delights of the debut, 'Nightfreak And The Sons Of Becker' is back to the madness of their self-titled first outing, if not quite the level of achievement. I spoke of make or break at the end of my 'Magic And Medicine' review? Releasing this mini-album is a clever way of getting around such problems. Another ( good ) thing is they didn't have time to second guess themselves or think about things too much, 'Nighthawks And The Sons Of Becker' comes out sounding more like The Coral than perhaps any other Coral album. Influences assimilated into something else, at last! This something else actually doesn't sound too different to what they were doing before, but this time around, it's less easy to play 'spot the influences'. The entire album runs to around 30 minutes length, some material is quirkier than other material, but this is certain a very listenable effort. 'Precious Eyes' switches from sweet crooned softer moments to frenzied guitar work, 'Song Of The Corn' is suitably spooky, 'Keep Me Company' a little dreary yet the likes of 'Auntie's Operation' return to madness and guitars, so all is well.

    'Venom Cable' initially sounds throwaway, as certain songs on this album seem to, yet listen again and a nagging riff and rhythm emerges and it stays in your brain. 'I Forgot My Name' reveals a previously unthought Mark E Smith influence in The Coral's music. Let's hope they keep us guessing whilst continuing to become more distinctive when they do get round to releasing the third album proper.

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    Readers Comments

    Billy Liar Glenn@mitchell1818.fsnet.co.uk
    More like Nightfreak And The step sons of Beefheart FIRST of all how can you give this more than magic and medicine that was darker than the Debut I think it weren’t as mad and Beefhearty. I must admit this album does have some good points and I could easily listen to it all the way through ’sorrow or the song’ is great that’s to me in the element of the sublime magic medicine also ‘lovers paradise’ migraine’ that’s cool there’s some groovy hooks and intramental display that proves they are one of if the most important British bands about in this ‘mini album’ even if this album to me is a touch pointless its only 8 quid and the art work is great the material is average but its fun. Id give it a 61/2 sounds bad but when you convert you get 3 stars out of 5 so that I see fair.

    top of page The Invisible Invasion 8 ( 2005 )
    She Sings In The Mourning / Cripples Crown / So Long Ago / The Operator / A Warning To The Curious / In The Morning / Something Inside Of Me / Come Home / Far From The Crowd / Leaving Today / Arabian Sand / Late Afternoon

    The Coral return having had their thunder somewhat stolen by fellow Liverpudlians, The Zutons. The Zutons sound like a cheap version of The Coral debut LP, a sound that some Coral fans seem to want their band to repeat over and over again. You know, 'Dreaming Of Me' part seven. So, we come to The Invisible Invasion instead. The Coral have released an LP more mellow in tone than previous LPs and less schizophrenic. So, it can now be seen that 'Nighthawk' was getting something out of their collective system. Not that 'Invisible Invasion' is completely berift of noisy guitar moments of madness, oh no! Just this time, such moments seem more controlled. Let's take 'Arabian Sand', a proper song with neat aggressive guitar, yet it's within context. Plus, a great little piece of scorching guitar arrives at around the two minute mark. It's all good. In a similar kind of vein is 'The Operator' which appears roughly a third of the way through the album. A brief, two minute organ and guitar blast, yet still.... you know. Proper. Ah, let's talk about the first single, 'In The Morning'. It has a little child-like musical box type of melody. A work collegue brought something up with me the other day, which i'd never previously considered. I don't have more than around 4 hours of my own music on the work computer, but my collegue mentioned the fact a lot of songs I like have a kind of child-like, tinkling musical box melody in them somewhere! And, thinking about it, songs such as Beach Boys 'Wouldn't It Be Nice', you know! Um, it's a huge generalization, but yeah, I like songs with an actual, definable melody. Whatever else is going on in a song, I want some melody, of whatever KIND, i'm not too fussy. Eg, I love 'Sister Ray' by The Velvet Underground!

    'So Long Ago' has single potential, many of the songs here do. It's a very good set of songs, easily the most consistent set The Coral have produced. From beginning to end, yes, right through to the closing 'Late Afternoon', a real sad romantic story-telling kind of song. Well, not sure if its really romantic, or sad - yet feelings of both permeate me when I listen to it. I'm very tempted to up the grade for this album to an 8 and a half, yet.... Well. It's likely level with their debut. I don't know if they've produced enough classic material on this record for it to warrant a near classic rating of 8 and a half. I hope they carry on searching though. So far, every album they've made has been different in some way. That's a very good thing.

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    Readers Comments

    James herbertbobby@hotmail.com
    This album is great, I heard Noel Gallagher say that they were his favourite new band at the point in time and i went and had a listen to this in a music store. It took about 30 seconds to realise that this was more than just some 60's revival stuff, its a really really great album, every song is really solid and it has the radio hits like in the morning and something inside of me to prove it. I would say 9 at least, by far their best album!

    top of page Roots And Echoes( 2007 )
    Who's Gonna Find Me / Remember Me / Put The Sun Back / Jacqueline / Fireflies / In The Rain / Not So Lonely / Cobwebs / Rebecca You / She's Got A Reason / Music At Night

    People are of course entitled to change their minds, yet when I wrote of 'Nightfreak And The Sons Of Becker' in more favourable tones than 'Magic And Medicine' many readers thought i'd lost my marbles. Reviews of 'Roots And Echoes' i've read so far damn this latest Coral effort with faint praise, saying they've lost their experimental edge. Well, you never liked their experimental edge and now you're saying you do? Can't win, can they, these lads from Liverpool? True, it seems unlikely The Coral will ever again produce something as demented as 'Skelton Key', but 'Roots And Echoes' is another fine set from them. Guitarist Bill Ryder-Jones quit touring in 2005 due to personal difficulties. He's back in the fold now and comes up with some consistently inventive and imaginative guitar parts that often transform these relatively simple songs. Singer James Skelly still has a decent set of lungs, coming across like a 60s rhythm and blues vocalist. In an interview recently with The Independant, Skelly perceptively said I think the best thing about The Coral is we take strange influences and make it accessible. They also reportedly recorded another 40 songs during the 'Roots And Echoes' sessions, some of which will be released as their 'death folk' album, an experimental set of songs due to be released under another name.

    One of the good things about The Coral is the fact they know how to construct an album as an album, not a random selection of loosely related songs. 'Roots And Echoes' is compiled and sequenced astutely, building upto a climax with the very impressive closing trio of tunes, amongst them some of the finest material The Coral have produced. In the meantime, 'Who's Gonna Find Me' is a fine memorable tune enriched with neat little guitar parts that don't showboat, just remind you there is more that just tunes to this band. On the quiet front, we have the gorgeous folky 'Not So Lonely', which like all the best Coral tunes, sounds instantly timeless. 'Jacqueline' sounds like a hit to these ears, 'In The Rain' is an enjoyable rockier tune with yet more clever guitar parts. Let's move onto those closing trio of songs, though. 'Rebecca You' is a tune quite unlike The Coral have done before. This is a cleverly and delicately layered, utterly beautiful musical track. We've got violin flying away, one of James Skelly's finest vocals, piano parts and 'Rebecca You' just joyously floats in front of you. 'She's Got A Reason' is a nod back to earlier, rootsier Coral yet still posesses a maturity and level of song construction beyond the majority of their peers. The closing 'Music At Night' is a rolling, atmospheric six minute epic, the violins return and again, The Coral haven't produced anything quite like this track before. It's a winner in our house.

    'Roots And Echoes' rewards repeated listening, is the most consistent LP The Coral have yet released and they deserve acclaim for being one of the best bands around for the past five years or so.

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    Readers Comments

    James herbertbobby@hotmail.com
    Once again, Adrian, I am convinced u are addicted to crack. I mean that in the nicest possible way. This album has nothing on the Invisible Invasion. Granted it is a differet sound all together and they do seem to still be carrying their vintage influences. This time round however, they have gone from a 60's psychadelia type sound to a Burt Bacharach flavoured bland. My case in the point, the lyrics "we've got to put the sun back in our hearts" makes me cringe as much as watching the American Office series. Nothing on this album reaches the highs of The Invisible invasion i.e She sing the Morning, Arabian Sand. Gone are the cool guitar parts, introduced are some awful orchestral strings. The album does have redeeming points like 'At night' as u mentioned but its not enough to warrant this their 'Magnum Opus.' I give it 6/10 because i like them.

    top of page Butterfly House 7 ( 2010 )
    More Than a Lover / Roving Jewel / Walking In the Winter / Sandhills / Butterfly House / Green Is the Colour / Falling All Around You / Two Faces / She's Comin' Around / 1000 Years / Coney Island / North Parade

    Coral return with a new album produced by John Leckie. Now, Mr Leckie (should be Sir Leckie in all reality) has produced The Stone Roses, Radiohead, engineered Pink Floyd - loads of great stuff. Leckie is a man who has been around and matching his talents to The Coral we hope has to be a smart move. Founder member and guitarist Bill Ryder-Jones departed the band during 2008 so you might expect changes. Well, we don't really get any bar a smooth, silky and mature sound backed up by an intense knowledge in all things Sixties. Add a little throwing in of fellow Scousers Echo and the Bunnymen during the fine opener 'More Than A Lover' and there you have it. Well, almost and not quite. There is a heavy helping of mid to late sixties Byrds influences and far fewer guitar wig-outs that actually only enhance the effect of the ones that do appear. We can all mourn the fact The Coral didn't turn out to be Captain Beefheart's new magic band but when the likes of the title track appear, fans of Byrds harmonies and sparkling guitars will rejoice, at least. Not so rejoicing those who yearn for a little stylistic diversity across an albums twelve tracks, one of the major failings I need to report concerning this 'Butterfly House' album.

    Ah, some of the arrangements are beautiful though, the wig out at the end of the title track, the piano and the end of the folk-tinged 'Falling All Around You' which flows into the 1965 Monkees styled pop of 'Two Faces'. They should release this as a single, complete with wacky Scooby Doo style video. Really, they should! 'North Parade' closes the record with some old fashioned Coral guitar wig-outs which are very welcome to hear. All in all, after making such a competent, polished album after the departure of a key founder member, The Coral deserve much credit. I can't get away from the feeling however that everything is ever so slightly flat as a result of the blunting of the more extreme edges earlier Coral recordings posessed.

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    top of page this page last updated 12/03/11

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