The Coral's first album came out 20 years ago. And a fine album it is. After this, and over the next 8 albums, The Coral went about their business with quiet consistency, and whilst perhaps not receiving untold riches or high profile interviews in the music press, there really is very much to like in their catalogue.
Phase 1 of their career was closed out by 2008's 'Singles Collection'. 1 more album came before a 4 / 5 year hiatus which was broken in 2016.
And now they're back again with a double concept album titled "Coral Island".
Except ... it isn't really a double album (done and dusted in under an hour!) more two companion albums telling 2 sides of a story.
And it isn't really a concept album - there is a theme and outline narrative (best explained in the accompanying book), but no underlying story, main characters, or narrative conclusion.
Coral Island is an imagined seaside resort, and the album is split into 2 parts telling the story Summer point of view when the place is buzzing with incomers (Part 1: Welcome To Coral Island) and then looks at the town and the residents remaining when the visitors have gone (Part 2: The Ghost Of Coral Island).
There are 15 stand alone songs in the 24 song package. The remaining tracks are narration provided by James and Ian Skelly's grand-dad. The tunes themselves (in Part 1) are bright, melodic, a sort of Britpop-Psychedelia which has been a common thread of The Coral's work. Part 2 (as the sub-title suggests) is a darker affair, but still has moments of lift and breeze.
From the 60s-esque, oh-so Coral sounding "Lover Undiscovered" through the Garage Rock meets The Doors meets Inspiral Carpets of "Vacancy", the busked, wistful "Autumn Has Come" - and that's just Part 1.
Part 2 starts on a darker tone - "The Golden Age" sounds like you've mistakenly played a Richard Hawley album by mistake, but also remains Coral-ly. In fact Part 2 probably contains more musical diversity and also has echoes of ? And The Myserians, The Shadows, Neil Hannon, Johnny Cash and Crosby Stills & Nash.
"Watch You Disappear" seem s to pull all these influences/sounds together whilst also pulling in Del Shannon, Joe Meek, and even a touch of "The Legend Of Xanadu".
And if this wasn't enough, penultimate track "Calico Girl" sounds like it wouldn't sound out of place in a trove of undiscovered 'White Album' demos.
The album displays real ambition, and delivers on that. It's intricate in creation and delivery, and doesn't fade or attempt to fit a song to the theme and move the album on in a jump.
'Coral Island' is very probably the best album of their career. And very probably the best album of 2021 so far.
(and who knows, may also be in the running for album of the year when critics and others tapping at keyboards assemble their "Goodbye To Another Year" lists)
Take Me Back To The Summertime