Patrick Robertson

The Coral
"Magic And Medicine"

10th June 2005
reviewer: Patrick Robertson
rating: 4 out of 5
published by: Deltasonic
released: 28th July 2003
  1. In The Forest
  2. Don’t Think You’re The First
  3. Liezah
  4. Talkin’ Gypsy Market Blues
  5. Secret Kiss
  6. Milkwood Blues
  7. Bill McCai
  8. Eskimo Lament
  9. Careless Hands
  10. Pass It On
  11. All Of Our Love
  12. Confessions of A D.D.D.

“There’s a war going on/Ain’t the obvious one/It’s between magic and medicine”. (Time Travel) There’s clearly a war going on here too, of a quite different nature – between The Coral’s innate pop-music soul and their desire to create more restrained, complex and careful tunes. Has their increased musical expertise overshadowed their wonderful songs?

The Coral are hardly the most difficult band to “get into”, but for devotees of their wonderful self-titled debut, this will be an exceptionally difficult record to like. They’ve matured, and frankly, the best part of their first album was the utter eccentricity and irreverence of it all. This is a band that should never have grown up.

On your first listen, it sounds like they’ve taken all their old songs and put them through the washing machine a few times. Weak? Washed out? Surely this can’t be the same band who brought us insane sea shanty ‘Skeleton Key’ and perfect pop tune ‘Dreaming Of You’? There are ballads on it, for goodness’ sake! And not just man-plant metamorphosis epics like ‘Simon Diamond’, either – actual love songs!

Play it a few more times, and it all comes into focus. ‘In The Forest’ isn’t dull – it’s eerie and mysterious. ‘Pass It On’ isn’t bland – it’s wonderful, flowing, jewel-encrusted folk-rock. And as for the aforementioned love stories, ‘Liezah’ – a genuinely moving tale of passion for a innocent girl whose only desire is “to walk the cobbled streets alone/heading anywhere but home” that ably demonstrates the more sensitive side of James Skelly’s astonishing voice - is perhaps the best song the band have written yet.

The Coral have probably the largest number of guitarists of any band around at the moment – an impressive three, plus one bassist – and just as they were responsible for some of the finest moments on ‘The Coral’, so they are on ‘Magic And Medicine’, for example in the multiple-melody beauty of ‘Careful Hands’ and in the absolutely sumptuous layered riffs of ‘All Of Our Love’.

All of which leaves Magic and Medicine as a highly successful second album. It doesn’t trump their first, but then it’s an altogether different sound for the group – more melodic, more restrained, more forward-looking. No doubt it’ll put off more than a few fans, but quite frankly, it’s their loss. One of the albums of the year.