Article – The Coral

Park Life

(Originally published in Inform Magazine, December 2003)

The Coral‘s rise to the toppest of the poppest looks little danger of being checked, despite one or two dodgy singles. As they head to the city to play two triumphant shows we look at their short but explosive rise.

It took a while for Inform to like them, despite having a nice picture of James Skelly in our very first issue. We weren’t at those Bandwagon shows last year and the first we heard was the hype, with the NME describing them as, “The most extraordinary band Liverpool has produced for years”, swiftly followed by the usual promotional guff that preceded the arrival of their first album. The suspicions were further raised when it was discovered how young they were. It’s rare to get a band who are both young and any good; most very young bands tend to be signed by slightly desperate fortysomethings in Placebo T shirts.
When we actually heard that album we were somewhat confused. It wasn’t that they were the most extraordinary band Liverpool has produced for years, it was that they were every band Liverpool has produced. The eponymous album was like a Liverpudlian greatest hits, wherein you got bits of the Beatles, the Teardrops, Echo and the Bunnymen, the Stairs, Dr. Phibes, Shack, the Living Brain… even Mr. Ray’s Wig World. They also have a healthy dose of bands much loved by Scousers, such as Pink Floyd and Captain Beefheart. Most of all they were riding the current love of ‘sea shanty’ music, which is a poor way to describe the speeded up Country-influenced music much beloved of most Bandwagon bands like The Stands, Tramp Attack and The Bandits. For a band so steeped in Liverpudlian music, it’s notable that they actually come from Heswall over t’water.
But unoriginality just isn’t the crime it once was. Sampling hasn’t helped and the nearly 50 year old breadth of popular music has not only made it hard to come up with new ideas, but made it easier to just plunder stuff from the past that people may have either forgotten about or are feeling nostalgic about. Hence the Darkness, amongst many others. So you can be resistant to some of the Coral’s more blatant plagiarising or you can just go with the flow and appreciate the most notably thing about their debut album: its sheer energy.
It’s something that is largely absent from modern music. The days when the Beatles could seduce half the world with uptempo numbers like I Want To Hold Your Hand seem to have long gone. If it isn’t boy bands foisting their ballads on us, it’s the sight of really old ‘legends’ who really need to hit the sanatogen. The Coral’s debut album may be highly derivative but it’s also bristling with creative energy. The sight of those two minutes of funky wonderfulness that was Dreaming Of You heading up the charts would melt even the hardest of hearts.
However, their live shows were not quite as inspired. The music may have been wonderful but their stage presence shares a lot with the interview style of fellow Scouse teenager Wayne Rooney. Gawky and barely articulate, they had a tendency to stand around and, well, play music. Fair play to ’em, but if we take the idea that most musical movements are essentially a reaction against what’s gone before, then the Coral’s motionless live performances may be partly responsible for the Darkness’s over-the-top Queen-like theatrics.
So we move forward to the last album, called with a typical Scouse nod to recreational pharmaceuticals Magic and Medicine (you’re not a proper Liverpool band unless at least half your songs are about drugs). What’s notable about the album, apart from getting in legendary Scouse producer Ian Broudie to twiddle the nobs in another typical nod to the city’s past, was how, well, less than energetic it was. Probably this could be due to second album syndrome, where the first album had more time spent on the songs and getting them to go as fast as they could stand it. But it was a disappointment to hear first single Pass It On, a perfectly passable little ditty that really needs a touch of acceleration.
Second single Secret Kiss was no better but thankfully they’ve finally released the best song on the album, Bill McCai – coincidentally the one that sounds like it belongs on the first album – just in time to play two triumphantly must-see dates at the Royal Court this December. The Coral are an undeniably great band; it’s instructive to compare them with the other greatly lauded band of recent times The Strokes, and wonder why they’re not given equal stature. They’re the sort of band Liverpool should have produced years ago, and probably could have if only people took the Stairs more seriously. And, unlike The Strokes, the truly great thing about The Coral is how much potential they still have. Now don’t mess it up lads.

The Coral play the Royal Court on the 19th and 20th December

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About klausjoynson
I'm a writer, editor, musician, DJ and cartoonist. Contact me at: klausjoynson(at)gmail.com or follow me on Twitter: @KlausJoynson

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