The Coral The CoralButterfly House
Paradoxically, John Leckie (The Stone Roses, Radiohead) has produced the sixth album of the Liverpool group The Coral. We say that sounds strange, at first, because this band has drunk deeply of psychedelics, and stuffed itself with the golden aftertaste of the 60s. James Skelly et al debuted with the make-up of Jim Morrison and slap each other on the back with their countrymen The Zutons, The Dead 60’s and The Basement. They started off well (thanks to the old NME) and didn’t really progress, at all. Having become a band that little or even nothing was expected of, with “Butterfly House” they’ve started to race ahead, almost blindly, and have sunk themselves (for better or for worse, we have yet to see) in the puddle of cheap perfume (harsh, but friendly) of retro and melancholy. Everyone knows that the supply/demand of this type of productions isn’t the same as Lady Gaga or the (now complete) Take That. The prolific The Coral, who in the beginning gave us the impression of being a group of university student friends who started to play inspired by powerful influences that, perhaps due to ignorant inability, they limited themselves to copying, have now been doing exactly the same thing for at least five albums, not counting this one. And the influences are so noticeable that at a certain point they aren’t noticeable anymore. To make a long story short, let’s just say that they run the risk of being boring.
Except “More than a Lover” with its Bond airs, and the magnificent single “1000 Years” (the only song with its own personality that really drinks from, but doesn’t drown in, the 60s style with guitar riffs in the background and echoes, here slightly distorted, in an unspeakably lovely melody), the rest of the songs wander somewhere between defence and plagiarism, the defence of mainstream arrangement values and a lack of inspiration caused by not knowing how to wear the mask when the party isn’t a costume party ( “Roving Jewel” seems like Joey Tempest in “A Place to Call Home”, ooops). Effectively, the songs are pleasant (the sweet mainstream song “Walking in the Winter”, for example), but we tremble at placing our bets on them when we have listened a few times. There are lots of songs without a lasting chorus (or if you prefer, with a really ordinary one) like “Sandhills” (which smells like so many others of the period, well done but where Skelly’s timbre blends in with that of 80% of the population of the world), the pro-déja vu sixties thing of “Butterfly House”, or the tracing of chords that is “Green Is the Colour” (sad, and even a little over-easy). They are a visual group (we’ve heard them on TV commercials) and they show it in the affected acoustic “Falling All Around You” which is ideal to be inserted into a romantic film. It’s evident that they are flirting with the sound copying of people like Denny Laine and The Moody Blues. We see it in “Two Faces”, where we understand that only Scott Walker knew how to evolve the orchestra applied to retro pop-rock with his (now classic) albums number one to four. In “She’s Comin’ Around”, once again they don’t copy, it only seems like it, and that’s something that we shouldn’t notice. That is to say, they ought to add more personality to their compositions, so that they don’t fall into the rut of the generic. Leaning towards The Byrds, The Rascals and The Last Shadow Puppets, they should take advantage of the material to compare what works for some and doesn’t for others (for example, The Rascals try to do what The Last Shadow Puppets do, and they don’t quite cut it, the way that Alex Turner’s parallel band does manage to be similar to Walker).
The problem is that Skelly’s band already has some experience behind it, and the surprise factor is gone. They know how to knot their tie, but they still have to realise how to choose the cocktails and company. Good manners and killer looks remain, nonetheless. The impact that John Leckie has made the production, with few ups and downs, in favour of homogenous, coherent textures (Skelly’s unfortunate interpretative fits are a pity), and a few refreshing sound experiments (the glockenspiel in “Coney Island” plays its role ingeniously as the master of ceremonies of the desolate, sad panorama of the place which we imagine to be deserted here, with its amusement park closed. These feelings are also reinforced by a lovely hurdy-gurdy musical ending) save the album and raise it up from a position of relative failure to one of wanting to but not quite succeeding. If you buy the extended version, you will find a handful of songs more that confirm that everything goes in a group that is still missing some hits. “Dream in August” stands out, along with the well-done “Another Way” and the psychedelic “Circles”, as if looking back on their beginnings. And don’t pay any attention to the “acoustic version” of the single “1000 Years”: the echoes and other flourishes are still there. As we said, for neophytes and tender ears, a pleasant, good-enough album. For people who ask for a little more, it is confirmed that the biggest obstacle faced by pro-sixties groups is that the bands then were too good. Jordi Guinart