“We’ll set sail again / We’re heading for the Spanish Main” ... Wow! Revisiting the Coral’s brilliant self-titled 2002 debut album for the sake of this review and the goosebumbs are already in motion. And I’m just one minute in! These glorious lines, sung in a weird, upbeat and eager manner, like the lives of the singers depended on it, belonged to some British teenagers from a small seaside town which no one had, or come to it, has heard of.
Hailing from Hoylake, near Liverpool, the Coral’s debut bolted through the English indie rock scene seemingly out of nowhere. Easily one of the most impressive debuts of the Noughties, its maturity and breadth of vision belied the members’ young age (James Skelly, the leader, was 21 when the album was recorded, his cohorts averaging somewhere closer to 19). Refreshingly imaginative (Skelly and Co. would rather talk about the merits of Beefheart than the Beatles), the path seemed laid out before them.
But that was not to be, and rather abruptly things took turns to the worse. Records were released like there was no tomorrow, but the quality dwindled with each and every one. By Roots & Echoes (2007), the mighty ship that was the Coral had almost run aground. By this time, the band seemed almost visibly uncomfortable with the dry spell, staring dumbfounded into the camera in promotional photos, like rabbits into a headlight, always wearing the same dull clothes (come to think of it, only Pearl Jam “better” the Coral in nightmarish dress sense).
Somehow, Skelly and his men did manage to steer their battered creation in the right direction, releasing the fine Butterfly House last year. The material was recorded over two years’ time, honed and tested in live settings along the way. Apparently, the band was so enamoured with their newfound creativity that they decided to release the album again shortly before last Christmas—in acoustic mode. The reasons lie in well-recieved acoustic shows, and the album was briskly recorded in one day.
The album holds up well, even if you don’t quite notice that much difference in all around flow and pace. The original studio album contains folky ‘60s inspired indie rock, much like previous efforts, but you can sense some newfound assurance and self confidence. This acoustic take has the same aura around it and is a nice deviance, nothing less, nothing more. No song, for instance, takes on a new life or a new meaning. The strongest song by far, “1000 Years”, is miles above the rest in quality, either acoustically or electrically. And that’s the worrying part. Even though the Coral has managed to hit its stride again, nothing here comes remotely close to former glories and achievements, apart from that one song.
Sadly, you suspect that Skelly and his merry men are well equipped to release so-so records well into the next decade if that’s their fancy. We can only hope and pray that this particular rejuvination digs somewhat deeper and the crack in the creativy dam is growing.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.