March 11, 2004

Test Spin: The Coral

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Mix a couple crazy sea chanteys, swirling psychedelic guitar riffs, and whimsical lyrics about “solid-boned skeleton keys” and you have The Coral — six college-age lads from Liverpool putting out records every six months. The Skeleton Key EP, their first and best collection of material, plays with cowboy harmonicas, military snare beats, and classic, pulsating organs. Each song throws in a dash of Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa, and Captain Beefheart, while still veering off in a new direction.

With music akin to gypsy bonfires and lyrics cribbed from Pirates of the Caribbean, “Skeleton Key” kicks off the album amid a fury of guitar notes and settles into a mid-tempo groove reminiscent of Velvet Underground. As the band mates chatter and scat in the background, lead singer James Skelly commands them to “roll another for me/ I am shipwrecked on the rocks.”

The first three tracks excite, but the latter half of the album is dull and derivative. Imagine the Shins without creativity or hooks and you have “Darkness,” a campfire lesson on finding beauty in depression. “Sheriff John Brown” spins a fascinating story of the moral dilemmas involved in shooting the invalid, but while the lyrics shine, the music suffers.

The Coral, along with the Vines and Soundtrack Of Our Lives rode the nostalgic music phenomenon to a record deal. While their current material captivates and charms, The Coral must put out a consistent, high-quality album before they become the Libertines of the nostalgic movement, shipwrecking on their own hype and having their guitar player break into the lead singer’s house for drug money.

Archived article by Will Lanier