Release Date: Mar 4, 2016
Record label: Ignition Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
The Beatles were an anomaly in many ways. One of their less remarked characteristics is how they became more popular while still pushing boundaries and being less obviously “commercial”. It’s usually the other way round: for example, Supergrass, whose 2005 album Road to Rouen was light years ahead of their bubblegum 1995 debut, but sold only half the amount.
It's tempting to categorise The Coral as landfill indie resurgence, musicians of Noel Gallagher and Richard Ashcroft's ilk, who provoke a response of "Oh, they're still going? Really?" And going on all available evidence, it would be fair to do so. You might even be surprised to hear that they put out seven whole studio albums between 2002 and 2010; they were never necessarily bad, just a bit inessential. .
After half a decade spent working on solo projects that usually involved all the bandmembers anyway, the Coral regrouped to record their eighth album, Distance Inbetween. With new guitarist Paul Molloy of the Zutons on board, the band aimed for a more organic, heavier sound than past efforts. To that end, they recorded live in the studio, mostly using first takes and adding minimal overdubs.
In their favour is a moodier and more rhythmic approach, with all the hooks that once made them great. There are highlights galore. Now in his mid-30s, frontman James Skelly is still growling out lines such as “Ooh she’s a mover/ as she moves in and out of time” on the brilliant ‘Miss Fortune’. First single ‘Chasing The Tail of a Dream’ is a psych-rock belter with a banging beat courtesy of James’s brother Ian.
Can it really be 14 years since the Coral’s debut album? The playful, genre-bending band of that record have since metamorphosed, quite naturally, but the spirit of psychedelic exploration is very much present on their first set of new songs since 2010. The mood is glowering and foreboding: the drone is very much in evidence, along with north African influences that give Distance Inbetween the air of a sandstorm swirling around the listener. The opening trio of tracks are like an extended mood piece, and even when they give way to the title track, a ballad, there’s no let up in intensity – James Skelly sounds like a garage band Scott Walker, crooning over minor keys – and it’s straight from that to the controlled, fuzzy attack of Million Eyes.
It may not seem like it, but The Coral have been away nearly six years. This deceptive length of absence has been hidden through the prominence of ex-lead guitarist Bill Ryder-Jones in a successful solo capacity, James Skelly’s 2013 side project with The Intenders and last year’s release of the ‘lost’ Coral album, The Curse Of Love. Album number eight – yes, really! – finds them with a new lead guitarist in tow – and it’s ex-Zutons member Paul Molloy.
Anyone remotely interested in songwriting of the Sixties ilk in the twenty-first century should be well aware of The Coral. Primary singer/songwriter James Skelly is of a rare breed, up there with Noel Gallagher and Richard Ashcroft in terms of keeping the flag of The Beatles and The Byrds flying in the modern era. The Coral first began to get recognised for their quality in the early Nineties after signing with the late, great Alan Will’s label Deltasonic.
A title like Distance Inbetween inevitably makes one think of time and specifically the difference in The Coral from their debut, which bubbled with excitement and inventiveness to the more sombre, meditative songs they’re writing now. Their first album in five years is markedly less experimental than their earlier material, its nature is reflective and at times regretful, with lyrics such as “An illusion of a memory that fades” and song titles like “Chasing The Tail Of A Dream”. The musical environment The Coral found themselves in when they first emerged in 2002 was markedly different to today.
Scouse-pop whimsy makes way for prog-psych lushness. As the old chicken abuse joke could have gone, ‘you wear one samurai helmet...’ Even through their chart-busting years in the mid-00s, when albums such as 2003’s Magic And Medicine were huge hits on both sides of the Atlantic and Dreaming Of You was as ubiquitous as shite Leigh Francis impressions, Liverpool’s The Coral were still haunted by their quasi-novelty past of wizardly photo shoots and shanties about Simon Pieman. ADVERTISINGinRead invented by Teads .
Hatchets are buried so regularly these days that you fear more for the futures of bands on amicable hiatus than those who’ve split. But the Coral return after five years sounding re-energised and inspired by the possibilities of playing together again. In part that means increasing the volume: their impish folk-pop is beefed up into something much heavier here; tracks such as Million Eyes recall the muscular riffing of stoner rock as much as the skybound uplift of psychedelia.
Despite an initial prolific period of impressive consistency, The Coral, and singer James Skelly in particular, have never been quite afforded the respect and status afforded to the likes of Alex Turner and his Arctic Monkeys. In their initial burst from 2002 to ‘07, they released (or recorded, if you include last year’s “lost” release The Curse Of Love) six great full-lengths that explored the full range and then some displayed by their wild self-titled debut. From rollicking shanties to dark grooves in the woods, coupled with Mersey beat-pop anthems, wistful Byrds-ian jangle ballads and the occasional Beefheart-esque experiment, they’ve captured them all.