Album Review: Coral Island // The Coral

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Welcome to Coral Island. After nearly two active decades, The Coral have returned again in 2021 with their new thematic double album. James Skelly, Ian Skelly, Nick Power, Paul Duffy, Paul Molloy and new member, Ian Murray, have thrown themselves into the creation of their very own Coral Island. Their creation of a nostalgic world has been achieved through the release of the album and its accompanying book, Over Coral Island. Get ready to immerse yourself into a deep dive of your favourite seaside town. But remember, life at the beach continues all year round—not just over the summer.

Part one of the album, Welcome To Coral Island, is the perfect addition to any summer day. “The idea of Coral Island started as a place where our ideas could come together,” says James Skelly, while Nick Power adds, “It’s based on a sort of false nostalgia. We’ve created an adult world that’s been rewired through a child’s eyes.”

Influences from the band’s history are evident in this brilliant concept album. Forming in 1996 on the Wirral Peninsula, their music and lyrics have displayed a consistent affinity for the sea. The band are no strangers to sea shanties! Two decades ago saw the release of ‘The Ballad of Simon Diamond’, where the band fused sea shanty with psych rock. Recently, there has been an unexpected renaissance of the genre thanks to Nathan Evans, who shot to fame on TikTok with his version of the whaling ballad ‘Wellerman’, and has since signed a record deal with Polydor. James Skelly recently lamented the fact that The Coral were 20 years early, but stated that he’d rather see a sea shanty go to No. 1 in the charts than anything else. 

Staying true to their career, a fusion of styles is apparent throughout the album: country, psych rock, and indie rock are all on show. The use of a synth organ in ‘Vacancy’ gives Coral Island a fairground feel, while standing as a great song in its own right. Tricks like this further add to the sense of immersion within the concept album. Combining together a variety of musical styles perfectly captures the eclectic feel of the seaside in the summer months.

There is a clear thematic change as you move from Welcome To Coral Island to part two, The Ghost Of Coral Island. As the busy season ends and tails off into winter, the songs get progressively slower and more haunting. The change in mood is accentuated by a transformation in musical tone. Gone are the major chords and upbeat country feel. This is replaced with increasingly brooding and thoughtful tracks, perfectly encapsulated by the lead single ‘Faceless Angel’. This is a far cry from the cheerful nature of some of their earlier work including the timeless ‘In The Morning’. The Ghost Of Coral Island captures the lonely lifestyles of the remaining seaside inhabitants. The desolate existence of a tourist-free winter is explored and there is a stark contrast shown between the seasons.

Not to go unmentioned is the use of speech to narrate the lives and interactions of various characters from Coral Island. The narrator also happens to be the lead singer’s 85-year-old grandad. Newest band member, Ian Murray—with the assistance of a Space Echo—works to create the feel of an old radio drama. The perfect placement of his narration, often accompanied with music, is incredibly intriguing. Listening to the album alongside his words tangibly builds the scenes of Coral Island and makes listening a real story-telling experience. 

James Skelly has said the album was actually finished before the first UK lockdown. Postponing the release date until the end of this month has perhaps made the messages of the album even more poignant. The past year has highlighted the struggle of so many industries that rely on our ability to go out and enjoy ourselves. For many seaside towns though, this reality is felt with each coming winter. Coral Island may be an imaginary place formed in the minds of the band, but there are countless areas of the world that have struggled with the lack of tourism over the past year. Coral Island offers a joyful yet reflective insight into the nature of seasonal tourism. It explores how bustling seaside hotspots can become unrecognisable ghost towns as the winter draws in and the beaches and amusements empty. In this regard, the composition of the album is seamless; I’d encourage anyone to take the opportunity to immerse themselves in the pleasures and pains of Coral Island

Coral Island is on out on 30 April 2021 and is available to pre-order here.

Words by Eloise Cowen


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