Thursday, May 20, 2021

'Coral Island’: The Coral offer fantastical escapism into a psychedelic world of their creation

‘Coral Island’ marks The Coral’s 10th studio album and first double album, but don’t mistake their career longevity as an indication of their dwindling energy. The band shows no signs of slowing down, in fact, ‘Coral Island’ is an ambitious task but one that is -definitely- paying off. An entire micro-universe is explored in the often-eerie depiction of a crumbling seaside resort, the classic fairground imagery playing host to a cast of enigmatic characters.

Disc 1 explores the island in its prime, during one summer season; the opening track, ‘Welcome to Coral Island’, consists of spoken word that poetically sets the scene of an ephemeral place in which “there is no past or future, only the now,” and inviting the listener into the depths.
The first side oozes with a light sunniness with an underbelly of nostalgia; ‘Lover Undiscovered’ and ‘Change Your Mind’ are both breezy, self-assured, and lyrically sharp tracks, while an album highlight, ‘Autumn Has Come’, meanders over a soft-rock, carnival-tinged base.
‘Arcade Hallucinations’ muses upon “the rush of childhood, in the arms of the arcade”; in this and other places, the fantastical elements of the island are deftly grounded in the distinctly British settings of the seaside pier.
Disc 2 opens with ‘The Ghost of Coral Island’, the voice of frontman James Skelly’s grandfather speaking over an uncanny, warped tune, chronicling the abandoned stragglers of the summer, and setting the tone for a more wistful series of tracks. 

'Golden Age’ is another high point of the album as a whole, an enticing re-entry into the decaying carnival ground that features a distorted merry-go-round tune and ghost train-Esque synths. This is the resort in its seasonal decay, a great strength of the shift being its character portraits, most notable in ‘The Great Lafayette’, with its description of the carnival cast in wake of the show’s closure; “they arrive in the afternoon and sit alone / nursing beers and tons of whiskey.”

‘Strange Illusions’ paints more bizarre, hallucinatory visions such as “the girl that smiles without a face,” the singer dually mourning the loss of the illusionary acts of the fairground, as well as his more intimate psychedelically coloured mirages of relationships past. The deteriorating place and figures are doubled with musings of more intimate emotional impermanence.
‘The Land Of The Lost’ channels something of The Specials’ ‘Ghost Town’ with its reverberating, synthesiser backing, but as final track ‘The Last Entertainer’ notes, “Coral Island has gone beyond a ghost town, to a / purgatory.” The winding down of the album is accompanied by eerie disembodied creaks and distant waves crashing, finishing the collection on a satisfying note.
‘Coral Island’ indicates a band that has an earned confidence in their sound, so that what might have posed a risk to others, the creation of a self-contained world sustained by the music’s lyrical and sonic prowess, feels natural here.

The wide expanse of the album is a strength, not a shortcoming. Its sprawling sound, varying both in track length and form, is evocative of the great expanse of the imaginary island, explored to its very last specter-like peculiarity.

Eleanor Burleigh
Twitter - @eleanoranneb
Image credit – The Coral ‘Coral Island’ Official Album Cover Art

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