Music News

The Coral

"Politicians, ugly buildings and whores all get respectable if they last long enough," said the John Huston character in Chinatown. In music, the same time-plus-trash formula often leads to the next big thing.

Which brings us to the Coral, a six-piece Scouse combo, all in their late teens and very early 20s, who have a self-titled album in the U.K., available stateside now as an import. To be fair, it's amazing loaded with hooks and over-the-top whimsy. At the very least, the album is wildly creative. And the band also has a newly released domestic EP, Skeleton Key, which is nearly as much fun. Together, these two discs shower a band that has fans and pundits on the far side of the Atlantic swimming like sharks in a swimming pool.

In terms of music, I can't help but suspect that Coral front man James Skelly and bandmates were placed as children in a locked room and fed nothing but Nuggets CDs, early Traffic, the occasional side dish of reggae and ska, and a PAL tape of the Ruling Class. From this mutant experiment, their psychedelia and garage-grunge emerged, complete with fuzz tones and Crybaby pedals and over-the-top dramatic readings, like parodies of Morrison's self-parody. Some of the songs, like "Skeleton Key," which appears on both discs, use tempo shifts that once signified a drop into the acid-cosmic unknown, like the trippier Country Joe stuff, complete with portentous organ backgrounds.

Another track, "Shadows Fall," starts out with a tasty Augustus Pablo melodica before turning blue beat, and then takes a giant step into klezmer kazoo-land like a Ladbroke Grove wedding band one spliff over the line. "Dreaming of You" threatens to play like the bop-along "My World Is Empty Without You" as performed by Dave Wakeling.

As other critics have noted, there are traces of an '80s Brit-Psyche revival here, but the Coral are much closer to the source: Roky Erickson, the Misunderstood, Eric Burdon's and Britain's answer to the MC5, the Social Deviants. Like then, there's good stuff, bad stuff, embarrassments and a few brilliant moments. Time, however, has flattened the perspective of the music of that era the way a zoom lens sacrifices depth for impact. And the impact of the Coral is simply terrific, like a Day-Glo pie in the eye.

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Henry Cabot Beck