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The Coral - Magic and Medicine Print E-mail
Tuesday, 10 February 2004

The Coral

Magic and Medicine
format: 16-bit Stereo CD
label: Columbia Records
release year: 2003
performance: 8
sound 7.5
reviewed by: Paul Lingas

Image The Coral has got my vote for best band I had never heard of. Combining western themes with influences from The Doors, Dick Dale and the Del-Tones, your local hockey or baseball organ and many others, the Coral uses smart and interesting arrangements to bring a sense of style back into the British Isles and elsewhere. They certainly have a style that they can try to call their own. It’s very distinctive and consistent, though it can’t be called unique. Even the song titles hearken back to country-influenced songs of the ‘60s with “Milkwood Blues,” and “Bill McCai,” with lyrics like: “Bible black and captain cat/keeps the world inside his hat/with deep dry wells/and cockled shells/he holds his wife beneath his paws.”

“Don’t Think You’re the First” has that strumming guitar that makes one think of secret agents, the 1960s, and the revitalization of that sound by Quentin Tarantino. There is a great little interlude that sounds like a mix of an electric harmonica and an accordion while a flailing flute tootles around in the background. Even the sound of lead singer James Skelly’s voice has a distinctive style: throaty, warm and bouncy. “Don’t think you’re the first/in the whole universe/to hear a thousand violins/as the trial begins.” There’s also a cool percussive thing that sounds like big wooden spoons being rapped together or like horses clopping along a cobblestone street with a lot of reverb.

“Talkin’ Gypsy Market Blues” reminds one of an updated western tune, but the kind from a movie, not an actual country/western song. With its funky guitar, western harmonica and a get-down-to-business beat, this song should be listened to by anyone driving to Las Vegas, especially if they’re driving an old convertible. “Secret Kiss” also smacks of the secret agent man thing, primarily because it sounds very British and also due to its use of a Hammond organ, an electric piano, a strumming, warbling Gibson, and a bizarre bass line that makes it languid, funky and hypnotic.

“Careless Hands” shows the ability of the band to combine many different sounds, unafraid to cross the melody and harmony in strange ways. A lot of harmonics in this song help to establish the fragility and awkwardness of those careless hands. The music and lyrics compliment each other perfectly here. The last minute completely changes the sound and direction of the song, making it much more upbeat and sort of angry, almost suggesting that the subject of the song has gotten over the wounding of the ex-lover and has moved on. It’s fitting that it occurs at the conclusion of the lyrics.

The Coral have some really distinctive instrumentation, putting mutes on things or playing in large, hollow auditoriums. The piano in “All of Our Love” sounds like it was recorded in a huge stone room. Clearly these guys know what they’re doing and they range in age from only 19 to 22. It takes musical talent to both compose and execute this music and these guys are just starting out. The arrangements are deceptive in their complexity, clearly making full use of all six band members. This album is well recorded, mixed and produced, especially considering all the different sounds that have to be included. Let’s hope these young guys continue rocking until their 40s. That gives them a good 20 years.

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