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The Coral : Magic & Medicine

The Coral will make their masterpiece soon... but this isn't it...

Let's get this straight from the start: there will not be many better albums coming from these shores this year. Coral's second album in as many summers suggests even more urgently that that landmark album that's so patently within their grasp is tantalisingly close. This, however, is not it. Not quite. It is still, nevertheless, a quite dazzling album.





And it's still infinitely more imaginative than the output of most British guitar bands. At this point in their short career, Coral remain in love with their own fabulous playing abilities, with their magpie gift for appropriation of just about any musical style they try to fully realise. They can do bossa nova, they can do country, blues, psych-out, psychedelia, bluegrass, folk, vaudeville... it's all within their powers, sometimes all at once. But what they do most effectively is write brutally concise and beautiful pop songs, and they're writing more and more of them.





The two singles on this album are good each-way bets for the Single Of The Year trophy: 'Don't Think You're The First' and 'Pass It On' are both bittersweet ruminations on the nature of love and death, the former reeking of a psychedelic nobility not heard of since Teardrop Explodes, the latter shining like some lost Gram Parsons jewel. Both are short, melodic and moulded into shape by James Skelly's majestically soulful howl. Is there a better young white singer in the UK today? Nope. Is there a more experimentally gifted group of musicians in the country (especially supernatural guitarist Bill)? Probably not, and thereby hangs Coral's gift and curse.





At times, it's like they've discovered they're brilliant linguists and have all decided to speak different languages at once. The result, as on 'Gypsy Market Blues' and the latter half of 'Confessions', is confusing. What are they trying to say? Where are they trying to take us? To far-out, far-way places? Well, they manage those feats so much better on the aforementioned singles, and on other flashes of concise inspiration such as the organ-driven mystery of 'In The Forest', the contemplative folk laments of 'Liezah' and 'Careless Hands', or the Tamla-Jam-bop of 'Bill McCai'. Some of the wackiness works, such as 'Milkwood Blues' with its sudden burst of mysterious violin and piano. But often, it obscures the band's real gifts.





These are nothing more, though, than the frustrated quibbles of a parent with a particularly brilliant child. Coral will get there, they will make their masterpiece and soon. Alas, to get there, key members will probably have to endure broken hearts, wrecked dreams and betrayal, but a little painful living intruding on their psychedelic dreams will do us all good. In the meantime, we'll have to make-do with nothing more than brilliance.





Ted Kessler
8 / 10

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