It’s weird. Nearly all my favourite bands are British. Rock and roll may have been invented in the American South, but I have always felt that the British perfected it.
The Coral are British, from Merseyside. They were lumped in with the early guitar bands of the 2000s, but were quite different that, say, the New York band the Strokes, or even Liverpool scene mates the Zutons. The Coral were countrified psychedelia, part Byrds and part Blur. I’ve never been a big fan of the Strokes, but the Coral ended up being on of those bands I seemed to love despite everyone else telling me that I was insane. They never reached any semblance of success in the colonies. “Dreaming of You” was used on Scrubs. That was as good as it got.
The Coral’s 2002 self titled début was a Mercury Prize nominated, top ten selling bit of early 2000s brilliance. It caught my ear, though, not by my then favourite TV comedy. It was one of those weird random happenstance that occasionally throws you for a loop. I first heard them on a year-end Q disc, between the Hives, Badly Drawn Boy, and the Flaming Lips. The track was “Simon Diamond”, the Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd-esque sounding track with Kerouac influenced lyrics. A striking bit of drone pop, it lasts a mere 2:45, but it’s haunting children’s sing-song melody sticks with you.
The bands disparate influences came not just from music, but also film and literature. The video for “Goodbye”, which vaguely sounds like an incomplete Blue Oyster Cult song ( am I the only one who hears ” Don’t Fear The Reaper” here?), has a video inspired by the original Wicker Man film. It’s a great song matched with a visually memorable video.
“Skeleton Key” is more 60s inspired freak out music. Essentially a song about growing up near Liverpool and the influences of Syd Barrett and the equally complex and brilliant local band the Teardrop Explodes, it moves at a ferocious sonic clip.
Their début single, from a 2001 EP but included on the album, is “Shadows Fall”, a weird combination of surf guitars and moody Morricone organ sounds. It remains on of the most interesting début singles ever released. It’s certainly is catchy, just not in a “Baby One More Time” way.
Opener “Spanish Main” is more surf guitar layered over raucous Keith Moon drum noises, “I Remember When” is at first laconic and dreamlike before the chorus kicks it into snarling garage rock with snarky attitude to spare. “Waiting For The Heartaches” is clipped, almost bossa nova in its quieter moments, with a very ? and the Mysterians inspired organ line. “Wildfire” opens with a music box piano sound followed by a music hall tuba influenced beat, and is pretty bass driven. “Badman” is the closet they get to outright punk, and ” Calenders and Clocks” closes the album on a strong note, as if the Strawberry Alarm Clock had written something infinitely better than “Incense And Peppermints” and gave it to someone who gave it to the Skelly brothers at some point.
I have to admit, though, my favourite track from the album is the delightful, poppy, gorgeously harmonised “Dreaming of You”. It bounces along like the best Ronettes songs, and despite it’s somewhat downer lyrics about rejecting love while desiring it at the same time, it’s almost joyous in a celebration of sixties pop glory and harmony.
And that is the big thing I love about the Coral. They have gorgeous harmonies all through the record. Harmonies like these aren’t readily used anymore. Ultimately, they sound like the Beach Boys if Brian Wilson had decided to stop competing with John Lennon and Paul McCartney and take on Syd Barrett and Robert Fripp.