There are times when unfamiliarity with a band can be a blessing. Without the burden of foreknowledge, one can listen to an album with a completely open mind, free of prejudice and expectation. Although it might sound unfeasible, imagine what would happen had you listened to Morrissey’s solo work without hearing a single Smiths song previously. Would the songs be held higher in your estimation? We may never know, but I do know that I hadn’t heard a single song from British sixties throwback the Coral until their latest album, The Invisible Invasion. While this is an uncommon experience for me, it turns out that it worked to my advantage.
How I missed the hoopla surrounding the debut from the Coral confounds me. NME called them the best British band of 2001 upon the release of their first single, “Shadows Fall.” Their debut album hit stateside two years later, as is increasingly the trend, and they quietly came and went. Fast forward to 2005 and we have their latest album, released in May in the UK and in the fall on our shores. Reviews vary on both sides of the Atlantic, some calling it boring and others inventive. If you ask me, which if you are reading this review you are, The Invisible Invasion is one of the best combinations of psychedelic sixties pop with slick British rock out there.
“She Sings the Mourning” is the opening track that has that early Jefferson Airplane feel, then switches over to a guitar assault at the end that scrambles your brain. “Cripples Crown” inches along nicely, with frontman James Skelly providing vocals that could stand alongside those of the Zombies’ Colin Blunstone or Love’s Arthur Lee. “So Long Ago” is what I’d imagine would happen should Edwyn Collins cover a Smiths song. The introductory guitars twinge with the ghost (I know he’s not dead, it’s an expression) of Johnny Marr. “The Operator” brings back the psychedelia to great effect, especially with the circus keyboards. “In the Morning” is one of the happiest sounding songs to play on my stereo in a long time.
The ’60s seem to never die. But while some seem bands seem only to be faded echoes of the era gone by, and still others seem to rehash those faded echoes, there are some, like the Coral, who get it right. I’d take the Hoylake band any day of the week over the Strokes, Jet or the Vines. The Coral remind me of the aforementioned Zombies in more ways than one. While I’ve never been a fan of Jefferson Airplane or other Summer of Love psychedelic bands, there was some X factor in the Zombies that made me love and respect them. Argent and Blunstone wrote accessible yet challenging pop songs that stand the test of time. That’s exactly how I feel now about the brothers Skelly and their mates in the Coral.
Most of the previous work of the Coral was produced by British pop maven Ian Broudie who I’ve gone on and on about in previous reviews and articles (which makes me wonder even further how this band slipped my radar). But with The Invisible Invasion, the band got a fresh start with not one, but two new producers, one Geoff Barrow and one Adrian Utley, both of Portishead. I wouldn’t have pegged the boys from the twenties meets the nineties electronic group to be able to evoke the sixties so well, but they did. And so, while the Coral started anew, I got to take my own fresh look at a band whose past I seemed to unintentionally avoid. Lucky me.