It may not seem like it, but The Coral have been away nearly six years. This deceptive length of absence has been hidden through the prominence of ex-lead guitarist Bill Ryder-Jones in a successful solo capacity, James Skelly’s 2013 side project with The Intenders and last year’s release of the ‘lost’ Coral album, The Curse Of Love.
Album number eight – yes, really! – finds them with a new lead guitarist in tow – and it’s ex-Zutons member Paul Molloy. Although another Liverpudlian, Molloy joins at a time when the band’s music has never sounded more cosmopolitan. His guitar becomes in effect the band’s second vocalist, adding its shrill counterpoint to Skelly’s softer-toned, sawdust vocals. Cementing the change in approach are the rhythm section of drummer Ian Skelly and bassist Paul Duffy. The former’s reliance on the bass drum and the latter’s lean sound give an undercarriage more obviously in thrall to Krautrock, while the keyboards of Nick Power are encouraged to take on macabre and more psychedelic visions in response.
The music has greater forward momentum as a result, and Molloy’s guitar adds powerful solos to White Bird and in particular Million Eyes. To his credit he is never self-indulgent, which is especially impressive as many of the songs were recorded in one take, but his longer solo in the latter song does rather draw the attention away from the lyrics themselves.
This is a problem that recurs on occasion, the band intent on cultivating their sound but at the expense of more obviously meaningful songs. Opening track Connector is a good case in point, being essentially an instrumental intro with Skelly’s “I’m a connector, you’re a receiver” barked out as a calling card.
The clear exceptions to this are Chasing The Tale Of The Dream, with its sharply observed psychedelic connections and catchy chorus, and the powerful, affirmative Miss Fortune, which incorporates foot-tapping and heart warming elements in equal measure. “She’s a mover,” proclaims Skelly through the vocal filters, “and she moves in and out of time.” The close harmonies, lithe bass and drum fills combine to radio perfection.
It is the softer side of The Coral that has tended to be more popular over the years though, and those lamenting its loss in the early part of the album will be reassured by Beyond The Sun, given some rather beautiful woodwind harmonies, and It’s You, a macabre song that evokes thoughts of Midsomer Murders with its revelations of how “you’re a killer in the headlights, a lover in the morning”. It is one of the songs that reminds us of the subtle darker underbelly to much of The Coral’s music.
It is good to have The Coral back, and while Distance Inbetween may not find them consistently hitting the songwriting heights it does consistently impress with the quality of its musical delivery and the authenticity of James Skelly’s vocals. The Krautrock influences are subtly employed and give the band more rhythmic energy, but they do also keep them at an emotional distance at times. By and large the trade-off is a success, and now that their creative famine as a band is over it is to be hoped there will be much more to come from one of Liverpool’s musical treasures.