The Coral were one of the more unlikely success stories of last year. Six scruffy lads from Hoylake, Merseyside, who were barely out of their teens, managed to produce an album that, although it sounded like it came out straight out of the tail end of the ’60s, was one of the freshest debuts in years.
That self-titled album propelled The Coral into the world of Mercury Prize nominations, critical adoration and commercial success. So Magic And Medicine has a lot riding on it. Will the boys “do a Gomez” and fail to live up to expectations? On the basis of this album, there’s not much chance of that happening.
Magic And Medicine is a wonderfully assured follow up, which, while being far more subdued than its predecessor, is a much more satisfying listen. The pothead humour and self-conscious “wackiness” which sometimes threatened to overwhelm the first album is more restrained – there are no songs about men turning into flowers here – and the band’s obsession with sea shanties seems to have abated.
Instead we have a collection of remarkably varied tracks which never cease to surprise. The first three tracks veer from the Doors-like atmospheric In The Forest to the Spaghetti Western sound of Don’t Think You’re The First before introducing the desperately sad, almost impossible lovely Leizah, which sounds like the best song Simon And Garfunkel never wrote.
The pop sensibility that made songs such as Dreaming Of You and Goodbye so popular is in evidence as well – recent single Pass It On is a contender for single of the year, but the band are still pretty far from selling out. Bill McCai for instance is utterly insane. This sad tale of a disaffected commuter driven to suicide (reminiscent of some of the stories from Blur‘s Parklife album) is set to a rockabilly beat that Elvis would be proud of and ends with the whole band hollering “bye bye Bill McCai”.
The musicanship here is quite staggering – the tight jam of Talkin’ Gypsy Market Blues being a particular highlight and the guitar work is remarkable throughout. Sometimes they do drift off into muso territory, as the last few minutes of the closing Confessions Of A.D.D.D. prove, but James Skelly’s voice is strong and soulful enough to carry even the weaker songs here.
Although Magic And Medicine possibly won’t be to everyone’s tastes, this is still a major leap forward for The Coral and cements their position as the most exciting new band in Britain.