The Coral's new album contains great melodies but could use a shot of adrenaline in places.
The Coral: Butterfly House
Even if you didn't buy The Coral's previous albums, their sound will likely be instantly familiar; not just because the five-piece from the Wirral, the peninsula on the outskirts of Liverpool, are impressively prolific - they have scored five Top 10 albums in as many years and are much admired within the music brethren - but because there is little in their looping, folksy sound that is not borrowed from the past. It has been their motif right from the start, to revel - like so many of their Mersey peers - in the harmonies and psychedelia of the 1960s. And it has served them well.
When they burst on to the scene in 2002 with their eponymous debut album (for which they were nominated for a Mercury Music Prize) they were hailed as the saviours of British music for taking it back to its roots. At a time when everyone else was glued to Pop Idol, here was a band that seemed to have more than a passing knowledge of music. It was all the more astounding considering their age - all six of them were only just into their 20s.
Thankfully, it wasn't just a one-off. Subsequent records stuck to the same theme - a bit of The Byrds here, a smidge of the Beatles there. Somehow, though, largely thanks to frontman James Skelly's forlorn, frayed vocals, they managed to avoid sounding derivative. But then, in 2008, there was the seemingly ominous release of a singles collection. Did it, as greatest hits compilations are wont to do, spell the end for The Coral? It didn't help that the band's guitarist, Bill Ryder-Jones, had left only months earlier. We needn't have worried, though. The Coral have marched on as a five-piece, and if Butterfly House is anything go by, had a new lease of life as a result of it. That's not to imply that they have thrown us a curveball. In fact, so deeply retrospective is their latest effort that you may, at intervals while you're listening to Butterfly House, have to look down to check you're not wearing paisley.
With John Leckie (The Stone Roses, Radiohead) on board as producer, their tambourine-laced hippie sound has been polished and fine-tuned to a richly layered melodic feast - none more so than the Simon and Garfunkel-esque Falling All Around You. There are several high points: the rolling guitar-led ditty Walking in the Winter, which could, in less capable hands, sound saccharine, but which is brought to life by Skelly's impressive vocals; the excellent Beach Boys-laced title track, an impeccably wrought effort with a haunting guitar riff; and North Parade, a refreshingly frenetic Hendrix tribute.
For all the great melodies, though, there are several, like Sandhills and Two Faces, that are on the bland side. As a result, the album's nostalgic sound does start to sound homogenous in the second half, particularly if you venture into bonus track territory. It's not that it's dull; it could just do with a shot of adrenaline in places. The Coral have shown, in each subsequent album, an increasing maturity. Though they have yet to turn 30, it seems to have peaked here. The musical madcappery they have shown a fondness for in the past may be markedly absent but at its expense comes a new confidence. Perhaps it is that that gives it a calmer, more pared-down sound. Even so, as much as some of it tends to fade into the background, the material is never weak, which is more than you can say for most bands' sixth albums. There is much that their fans will recognise and enjoy here. Just don't expect it to make your hair stand on end.
Superproducer John Leckie's three finest albums The Stone Roses
The Stone Roses (1989) After a career that had thus far seen him work with John Lennon (Plastic Ono Band) and Pink Floyd (Meddle), this was the album that cemented Leckie's reputation as a pioneering producer. In 2006, it was declared the best British album of all time by the NME. Radiohead
The Bends (1995) Leckie was personally chosen by Radiohead to produce their second album, which marked the beginning of a major change in their sound. According to the band, the creative space he gave them enabled them to experiment with new ideas - even in the face of record company pressure to produce hit singles - and allowed them the confidence to produce what is considered to be their finest album. Spiritualized
Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space (1997) His success with Radiohead put Leckie's talents in great demand, and though his next high-profile project as producer came with Muse's debut Showbiz in 1999, his engineering and mixing work on this this hypnotic, expansive masterpiece - one of the most vital records of the decade - should not be overlooked.