Album: The Coral

The Invisible Invasion, DELTASONIC
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The Independent Culture

Refocusing after the diversion of last year's stopgap curio Nightfreak and the Sons of Becker, The Coral return to something like the form of 2003's Magic & Medicine with another collection of enigmatic pop reflections set to gilt-edged melodies.

Refocusing after the diversion of last year's stopgap curio Nightfreak and the Sons of Becker, The Coral return to something like the form of 2003's Magic & Medicine with another collection of enigmatic pop reflections set to gilt-edged melodies.

It's easy to overlook that, although The Coral have been around for three years now and have made four albums, they're still younger than all the Franz Ferdinands, Kaiser Chiefs and Kasabians that have sprung up over the past year. More extraordinary still is their encyclopedic knowledge of four decades of rock and pop, which shames their older contemporaries not just with its breadth but also in the inventive way the influences are recontextualised.

With The Invisible Invasion, the influences are, save for a couple of tracks, less easily traceable than before. This is a more confident, homogenous effort than previous albums, though with no diminution in range and manner of instrumental detail. The usual complement of snaking psychedelic guitar, wheedling organ and chipper rhythms is augmented here and there by melodica, glockenspiel or creaky violin solo, but it all seems more subtly balanced here, thanks to the production expertise of Portishead's Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley.

The most noticeable influence is that of Can's Jaki Liebezeit on drummer Ian Skelly, who brings Liebezeit's trademark cyclical rhythms to a couple of tracks. Blended with harpsichord, 12-string guitar and sincere vocal harmonies on "Far from the Crowd", the result is like Can fronted by Simon & Garfunkel, an oddly appealing combination. Otherwise, there's a more general flavour of classic psychedelic soft-rock, with several tracks sounding as if they could be lost artefacts from some unissued volume of Nuggets. With lyrics like: "I see her swimming in the blackest sea/ With the magnets and the mystery", they might well be.

The Coral continue to draw inspiration from all over, with songs inspired by Salvador Dali ("Arabian Sand") and the Wright Brothers ("So Long Ago"). They sing of possession by an unfamiliar emotion ("Something Inside of Me", from whence comes the album title: "The invisible invasion/ It's like a stranger strangled on the moor"),and there's a haunting sense of crepuscular wonder in "Late Afternoon".

Indeed, wonder is the quality that sets The Coral apart from their peers. The Invisible Invasion is pervaded by an imaginative optimism, the feeling that there's always more to life than meets the eye, that there remains some inexplicable mystery beyond the drab matrix of reality TV, manufactured pop and celebrity gossip, that there is something worth striving for that isn't reducible to commercial considerations. Here's hoping they're right.

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