THE OBLIGATORY INTRODUCTION
A warm welcome to readers old, new and indifferent to the annual Acoustic Egg Box Top 30 Albums Of The Year. Yes, it’s late as always (my blog, my deadlines…) and I’d dearly love to say “better late than never”, but unfortunately it’s as ramshackle, inaccurate and subject to ridicule as ever. But remember, even if the gaffs, typos and rambling nonsensical sentences are boring you rigid, you’ve still got some embedded videos and a Spotify playlist (at the bottom of the page) to fall back on. So without further ado, let’s all throw up our hands and praise the power of music…
THE INCOHERENT PREAMBLE
It completely baffles me when I keep reading social media posts from people bemoaning the fact that “no one’s making any good new music anymore”. But those people are wrong. VERY wrong. And I know they’re wrong because I’ve been listening to good music all year. Lots of it. Right from the beginning of January, fine new records were being launched: an exceptional 3rd from Durand Jones & The Indications and a superb solo debut from their angel-voiced drummer, Aaron Frazer. Cracking new albums from award-winning newcomers Celeste and Arlo Parks also graced the airwaves. Less familiar, but just as wonderful and, yes, just as new, was the quirky, literate pop of The Gorstey Lea Street Choir who were championed by BBC6 Music and who you can discover a little more about here in the article’s “Listening” section. I could go on boring the tits off you, but you get the gist. The acts I’ve just mentioned form just an infinitesimally tiny part of the myriad of new releases we can discover every day. My point? It’s out there, you just have to go and find it. And here endeth the first lesson!
Also, during a year in which some of my favourite acts like Jane Weaver, Tindersticks, Yola, Teenage Fanclub, Crowded House, Elbow, The Manic Street Preachers, Ryan Adams, Saint Etienne and John Grant (among many others) all delivered excellent new records that DIDN’T make my end of year Top 30, to this deluded old fart at least, it means that both the quality AND quantity of new material being released also trashes the notion that “no one’s making any good new music anymore”. And just to ram home the point, 2022 already looks like it’s shaping up nicely with new long-players promised by acts as diverse and magnificent as Elvis Costello, Johnny Marr, Tears for Fears, Stone Foundation, Father John Misty, Beach House, Wet Leg, Maxwell, Sade, Spiritualized and St Paul & The Broken Bones. And here endeth the second lesson…
Lordy, I’ve been a bit preachy so far, haven’t I! Sorry. I didn’t mean to be. Much. But I just want you all to go out and discover the vast amount of amazing new “stuff” that really is right under your discerning noses. The industry has suffered immeasurably in the last 2 years due to the C-word, and it’s only going to survive if those of us who love music keep sharing and spreading the word about new acts and records and gigs and showcases and all the wonderful things that form such an important part of our lives. And here endeth the third lesson.
Now, like fervent, culture-loving emissaries, venture forth into your communities and spread the bewildering word of The Acoustic Egg Box!
Just one more thing…
As you trudge through this nonsense, you’ll notice some red highlighted and underlined text. Clicking on this text/ link will take you to pages with additional info about the artist in question (previous reviews/ blog posts etc), or it’ll be a link to relevant videos/ live recordings etc.
And lo! If by some miracle you’ve got this far without drifting off, here’s what rocked the world of Eggbox in 2021…
Gig: Stone Foundation – The Thunderbolt, Bristol.
We also saw Elbow at the Cardiff Motorpoint Arena and Scritti Politti at The Gate in Cardiff who both put on superb shows. But, the Stone Foundation gig (which would have been brilliant anyway) was even more of a night to remember due to a bizarre balls-up by the incompetents running Bristol Fiddlers. The venue cancelled the scheduled show at the last minute due to an alleged double booking. This meant that the great people at the tiny Thunderbolt, who heroically came to the rescue at the 11th hour, made a lot of SF fans very happy. It took some logistical expertise to fit an 8 piece band onto a postage-stamp-sized stage, but the noisy and appreciative crowd were rewarded with a rocking, if a little snug, set that was hugely enjoyed by all concerned.
Highlight Of The Year: Going out-out to watch live music again
Disappointment Of The Year: “Celebrity” COVID-19 denying anti-vax wankers
30: VALERIE JUNE – The Moon And Stars (Loma Vista)
29: BOBBY GILLESPIE & JEHNNY BETH – Utopian Ashes (Silvertone)
28: THE SPECIALS – Protest Songs 1924-2012 (Island Records)
27: GRUFF RHYS – Seeking New Gods (Rough Trade)
26: LEON BRIDGES – Gold-Diggers Sound (Columbia)
25: NICK WATERHOUSE – Promenade Blue (Innovative Leisure)
24: NATHANIEL RATELIFF & THE NIGHT SWEATS – The Future (Fantasy)
23: ROSE CITY BAND – Earth Trip (Thrill Jockey)
22: ARLO PARKS – Collapsed In Sunbeams (Transgressive)
21: LANA DEL REY – Chemtrails Over the Country Club (Polydor)
20: THE STRANGLERS – Dark Matters (Coursegood)
And the 2021 comeback of the year award goes to… The Stranglers. “Dark Matters” is the band’s 18th studio album and first new record since 2012. It’s also their first release since the death of iconic keyboardist, Dave Greenfield, whose playing still appears on several tracks that were recorded before his untimely passing in May 2020. The album itself is a melodic and (for them) sedate affair, which is hardly surprising as the sole remaining original member, Jean-Jacques Burnel, turns 70 in February. That said, the excellent “This Song” with a great video featuring football-legend and super-fan, Stuart Pearce, is vintage Stranglers. For me though, the album’s best track is the melancholic ballad, “And If You Should See Dave…” – a tribute to their erstwhile bandmate with the poignant closing lines: “It would be nice to say hello/ This is where your solo would go…”
19: LITTLE SIMZ – Sometimes I Might Be Introvert (Age 101)
Yeah, I’m a 58-year-old soul lover who likes rap music made by a 27-year-old lady. Get me! If my aching back and arthritic knees would allow me to get down wiv da kidz, I’d be there in an arrhythmic heartbeat. But this isn’t just your common or garden rap album, it’s a rap album that a 58-year-old soul lover should like. It’s chock full of “proper” choons (lordy I’m hip) backed by a full orchestra and produced by man-of-the-moment, InFlo (Michael Kiwanuka, SAULT, Cleo Sol, Jungle). It’s also cinematic and bombastic in places; electronic and beat-heavy in others. Lyrically smart, the 19 tracks are honest and revealing – intimate snapshots of her views on a range of diverse subjects including womanhood (“Woman” feat. Cleo Sol), her errant father (“I Love You, I Hate You”), self-doubt (“Standing Ovation”) and her Nigerian heritage (“Point And Kill”). And in case you were wondering, the album title uses the same initial letters as her nickname, Simbi.
18: JUNGLE – Loving In Stereo (Caiola Records)
Jungle released their eponymous, Mercury Prize nominated debut way back in 2014. Seven years on, and their third album, Loving In Stereo, although as insistently upbeat and danceable as ever, is a more refined and polished affair. Even though this is unmistakably a Jungle record, it’s evident that the producer, InFlo, although only named as a backing singer on a few tracks, has his signature sound stamped all over the album’s 14 tracks. The cross-pollination of styles makes even more sense when you realise that one half of the duo, Josh Lloyd-Watson, was credited on SAULT’s last record. The music? It’s their best, most consistent effort to date. This 10-minute video features the album’s last 3 tracks: the laid back beats of “Just Fly Don’t Worry”; the jazzy, soulful “Goodbye My Love (feat. Priya Ragu)”, and the joyous summery groove of “Can’t Stop The Stars”. Elsewhere there’s disco: “Keep Moving”; old school rap: “Romeo (feat. Bas)” and the jaunty pop-rock of “Rules”. The best news though – “Loving In Stereo” will DEFINITELY make you feel happier!
17: FAYE WEBSTER – I Know I’m Funny haha (Secretly Canadian)
Although “I Know I’m Funny haha” is 24-year-old Atlantan, Faye Webster’s, fourth album in 8 years, it took the inclusion of the soulful and plaintive opening track “Better Distractions” in Barack Obama’s now hugely anticipated end-of-year playlist in 2020, to bring her talents to a wider audience. Webster has a yearning voice that imbues her quirky, self-deprecating story-songs with a lilting, hypnotic quality. The employment of pedal steel and dreamy saxophone backdrops on many of the tracks adds to the feeling of calm reflection. Whilst it’s not quite country, not quite soul and not quite folk, “I Know I’m Funny haha” will appeal to fans of Natalie Prass, Jessica Pratt and possibly even Shelby Lynne at her most soulful. And yes, judging by the video for the album’s title track, she’s not just a great songwriter, she really is funny haha!
16: VILLAGERS – Fever Dreams (Domino Records)
If ever an album sounded like its cover artwork and its title, then Dublin based Villagers 5th album, “Fever Dreams” is it. The first 4 tracks set the tone for what’s to come. From the looped wooziness of off-key opener, “Something Bigger” through the dreamy optimism of “The First Day”, to lysergic “Song In Seven” (“There was a pattern in the sky/ And it took me so high/ And the waves at my feet/ In the warm North Sea”) things appear to be teetering on the edge of delirium. “So Simpatico“ is a celestial 7-minute epic complete with a spoken word, saxophone-drenched coda reminiscent of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” – and for me, it’s the best thing they’ve ever recorded. Conor O’Brien has always been a cryptic songwriter but the illusory concept of “Fever Dreams” has helped add new layers of enigmatic mystique to his work. If you love Mercury Rev (especially their All Is Dream album) I reckon you’ll adore “Fever Dreams” too.
15: SILK SONIC – An Evening With Silk Sonic (Atlantic)
Silk Sonic are an r&b superduo: namely, squillion selling pop-megastar Bruno Mars and r&b/ hip-hop rapper, singer, drummer, producer and all-round super-gifted smooth dude, Anderson .Paak. On top of that, if their combined talents weren’t enough already, they’ve also drafted in legendary Parliament/ Funkadelic bassist Bootsy Collins for added funk and fun. Between them, they’ve crafted an impeccable modern retro-soul album (think 70s Philly rather than 60s Detroit) that boasts one of the smoothest (“Leave The Door Open“) AND one of the funkiest (“Fly As Me“) tracks of the year. Whilst on paper everything about this brief but brilliant 9 track, 31-minute delight is everything I love about MOBO, the overt tongue-in-cheekness is, at times, for me at least, a little TOO knowingly cheesy for its own good.
14: CELESTE – Not Your Muse (Polydor)
Born in America to an English mother and Jamaican father, 2019 BBC “Sound Of…” and Brit award “Rising Star” winner, Celeste Epiphany Waite, released her long-awaited (and No.1 charting) debut album, “Not Your Muse”, in January. Her sultry, smoky vocals (especially on “Love Is Back“ and “The Promise”) will inevitably draw comparisons to Amy Winehouse, but even on the rousing pop/ soul numbers like “Tonight, Tonight” and “Stop This Flame“ she has more than enough about her not to veer into music-for-the-masses Adele territory. For me, the album’s 2 most beautiful and soulful tracks “Ideal Woman” and the piano-accompanied “Strange” (with nods to Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald) highlight what a promising future lies ahead for this extremely talented young lady.
13: PAUL WELLER – Fat Pop (Volume 1) (Polydor)
Fat Pop (Volume 1) is 63-year-old Paul Weller’s 16th solo studio album, 2nd No.1 in a row, and an incredible 5th release in 6 years (2015 – Saturns Pattern AEB 17; 2017 – A Kind Revolution AEB 4; 2018- True Meanings AEB 1; 2020 – On Sunset AEB 2). If he was just churning out reams of “stuff” for the sake of it, you could make a case for him to give it a rest for a while, but the exceptional quality and diversity of his prodigious output shows no sign of diminishing just yet. Whilst Fat Pop doesn’t quite reach the dizzying heights of his last 3 albums (it feels more like 12 individual songs rather than a cohesive whole) it’s still head and shoulders above anything his contemporaries have mustered in the last 12 months. Highlights for me are the McCartneyesque, piano-driven “Shades Of Blue“; the soulful “Glad Times” and “Still Glides The Stream” and “True“, a Bowie channelling glam-rocker featuring Lia Metcalfe from The Mysterines.
12: DAMON ALBARN – The Nearer the Mountain, Purer The Stream Flows (Transgressive)
I saw a Twitter poll a few weeks ago which posed the question: Is Damon Albarn 1) Hugely talented and a potential successor to David Bowie’s crown 2) Irritating, annoying and overrated. I voted 1) but was amazed at how many people think he’s 2). I guess he does divide opinion, but then again so did Bowie. But I digress, this isn’t about the man and his burgeoning, brilliant and eclectic output, it’s about his new album “The Nearer The Mountain…” – the follow up to 2014’s “Everyday Robots” (AEB No.17). By all accounts, the record was conceived at his home in Iceland as an orchestral suite and, like Iceland’s landscape, the music is haunting (“Darkness To Light“), glacial (“Esja”), sparse (“Giraffe Trumpet Tree”) and breathtakingly beautiful (“Particles“). If after reading this, you would still have voted to put Damon Albarn in category 2), then give this a listen, it may just be the album that changes your mind about him.
11: HAMISH HAWK – Heavy Elevator (Assai Records)
Every time I heard Hamish Hawk’s brilliant single “Calls To Tiree” on BBC 6 Music earlier in the year, my ears pricked up. His vocal style, phrasing and esoteric lyricism bear an uncanny resemblance to that of Neil Hannon, which is no bad thing of course. However, over the course of this fine album’s 9 other tracks, Edinburgh’s Hawk proves himself to be far more than just a Divine Comedy tribute act. Initially mentored by King Creosote during the recording of his first album, Aznavour, back in 2014, Hawk sites Morrissey (listen to elaborately titled second single “The Mauritian Badminton Doubles Champion, 1973″ for proof) and Randy Newman as influences; I’d also suggest that fans of Scott Walker would enjoy tuning their ears into these weird and wonderful vignettes. And let’s face it, any songwriter who can craft a beautiful song (“New Rhododendrons”), whilst including the word “Theodolite” in it deserves high praise indeed: “It’s all too much for me to handle/ Need help with my angles/ I hope you brought/ Your Theodolite”.
10: CLEO SOL – Mother (Forever Living Originals)
Cleo Sol is one of the busiest artists in this year’s Top 30. The London based soul chanteuse is heavily involved with 2 other albums in my chart (Little Simz/ SAULT) plus “Mother”, following hot on the heels of her beautiful 2021 debut, “Rose In The Dark” (AEB No.10), is her second studio album in under 2 years. And, if that workload wasn’t enough, in June she also found time to have a baby. As soul music goes, this is in the far end of the section marked “chilled”. These 12 tracks once again showcase Ms Sol’s blissful vocals (Minnie Riperton comparisons are more than justified) which float effortlessly over piano-led arrangements that Stevie Wonder would be proud of. Highlights for me are 2 of the album’s longest tracks: the languid 8 minute “Build Me Up” with its subtle time-signature shift halfway through and the gorgeous “Music” complete with subtle orchestration. Stressful day? Put Cleo on and let her ease your pain.
9: SAULT – Nine (Forever Living Originals)
Last year, SAULT released 2 of the greatest socially-conscious albums of the last decade: Untitled (Black Is) and Untitled (Rise). Unsurprisingly, they were my joint albums of 2020 (read the review here). This year, the mysterious, marketing-shy collective released “Nine”, another hard-hitting, InFlo produced album – remarkably, their 5th in 2 years. The central theme of “Nine”, (which the band only made available to stream for 99 days) is the often violent struggle of growing up on London’s toughest council estates. “London Gangs” (“London gangs/ RIP postcodes/ Revenge is all you know/ They did your big bro”), “Trap Life” and “Fear”, with their block-rocking beats and chanted vocals, set a scene of gang-related struggles, whilst in the spoken-word, “Mike’s Story”, Michael Ofo narrates a story of the night his father was murdered. It’s not all bleak though, on “Bitter Streets” Cleo Sol sound as heavenly as ever and her vocal contribution to the redemptive album closer “Light’s In Your Hands” help us believe that there really is hope for a better future: “Don’t ever lose yourself, you can always start again…”
8: THE BLOW MONKEYS – Journeys To You (Blow Monkey Music)
I’ve recently noticed an amusing Blow Monkeys Twitter “game” taking place. Someone will share one of the band’s hits from the 80s followed by the words: “they used to be brilliant”. Main Monkey, and all-round top chap, Dr Robert (Robert Howard), somehow ALWAYS spots this and replies: “but we still are”. And he’s right of course – they still are brilliant. Despite not having a chart album since 1989 or a Top 75 single since 1990, they (and Robert as a solo act) have been making consistently wonderful music during those intervening 30 years. And now, 40 years after the band formed, their 11th studio album, “Journeys To You” is the equal of anything they’ve ever written. The album’s goosebump-inducing openers, “Dust At Her Feet” and “Time Storm” are both swooping, string-laden epics that could easily have been lifted from a romantic 1960s movie (probably starring Robert as a suave leading man), whilst the title track sounds like the lost Bond theme they should always have been commissioned to write (there’s still time, Barbara!). Elsewhere, wherever your ears come to rest, you’ll hear vintage BM magic. Whether it’s during the soulful “Each & Every One” with its gospel choir backing, the jazzy “Touching Distance” or the funky “Unicorn Kisses” (the latter 2 have more than a hint of The Style Council about them), you’ll discover that “Journey’s To You” is a jewel of a record that this great band can be justifiably proud of.
7: JOEL CULPEPPER – Sgt Culpepper (Mr Bongo)
37-year-old Londoner, Joel Culpepper, is in possession of one the most amazing voices you’ll hear this side of anywhere. I have no idea what his octave range is, but holy crap, just listen to one of 2021s funkiest, most inventive and infectious singles “Thought About You” and tell me I’m wrong. In fact, if I didn’t know better, I’d have sworn blind this was a lost Prince track recorded on one of his better days. As well as his amazing, gravity-defying vocals, Culpepper’s amazing live performances and out-there videos suggest a man who is currently bursting with creativity – and with his debut album title punning on one of the best albums ever made, he’s obviously not short of confidence either. Prince comparisons aside, other influences are never far from the surface here. Curtis Mayfield looms large right from the opening wah-wah guitar riff of the album’s superb, Guy Chambers penned opening track, “Tears Of A Crown” and W.A.R is pure funk straight out of the JB playbook (watch the video for W.A.R plus the album’s most summery track, “Return” here). But Culpepper is so much more than just a UK r&b artist living in the shadow of his American heroes, he’s ripping up that blueprint, redrawing it in rainbow colours and exporting it back again. I’m confident that it’s only a matter of time before he becomes a household name on both sides of the pond.
6: NATION OF LANGUAGE – A Way Forward (PIAS)
I’ve never made any secret of the fact that during the early 80s I was the only New Romantic Mod in the village. And now, 40 years later, Brooklyn synth-poppers, Nation Of Language with their electronic beats, squelches and swirling soundscapes are taunting my inner Numan; daring me to dye my hair blonde, don a pair of 12 pleat Bowie trousers and a ruffled shirt and go mad with thick black eyeliner. Don’t worry though, it’s not going to happen; at 58, I will almost certainly look more Grayson Perry than David Sylvian. “A Way Forward” (the band’s second album) is this year’s wildcard entry in my chart. I know very little about them apart from where they come from and what/ who they sound like. However, I’m almost certain that fans of: OMD; early Depeche Mode and Simple Minds; Heaven 17; Kraftwerk; New Order; Ultravox et al will love this album. Yes, I’m being lazy, but listen to the glacial “In Manhattan“; melodic (think Depeche Mode’s “Dreaming Of Me”) “This Fractured Mind” or poppy (OMD “Messages” kind of poppy) “The Grey Commute” and make up your own minds. See you all down at The Blitz Club later then?
5: ISRAEL NASH – Topaz (Loose)
If Alexa was asked what cosmic country music sounds like, she would surely play an Israel Nash track. I first discovered his talents when he released the exquisite “Israel Nash’s Silver Season” album in 2015 (AEB No.3). He followed it up with the heavenly “Lifted” in 2018 (AEB No.11) and has now cemented his place in my “Favourite Artists Of The 21st Century” list with “Topaz”. Nash’s music evokes the spirit of Laurel Canyon and the stoned sounds of Neil Young, CSNY and The Byrds (“Closer” and “Canyonheart”) but a soulfulness also underpins much of his work – the Stax sounding “Down In The Country” is a prime example. Like his contemporaries from yesteryear, Nash doesn’t shy away from sharp social or political commentary either. “Dividing Lines” (with an opening Strat riff straight out of the Gilmour playbook) is about the destructive polarization of Trumpian politics: “I thought it was/ The promised land/ Now get me out of Dixieland” whilst the poignant “Sutherland Springs” recalls the mass shooting in a church there in 2017. But for me, Nash is at his best when he evokes the spirit of shimmering sunsets, desert winds, and distant lovers as my album highlight, “Southern Coasts” proves. Wonderful stuff.
4: AARON FRAZER – Introducing… (Dead Oceans/Easy Eye Sound) )
A Durand Jones & The Indications record without their cool-as-a-fridge, singing drummer, Aaron Frazer would be unthinkable; but, as you can hear on his Dan Auerback produced debut, “Introducing…”, Aaron Frazer solo is something special. Although Brooklyn based Frazer’s vocal style (think Frankie Valli/ Smokey Robinson/ Marvin Gaye lovechild) effortlessly lends itself to ballads and mid-tempo tracks (this live version of “Lover Girl” is exceptional), two of the album’s best tracks are more upbeat numbers: the Northern Soul style dancer, “Over You” and the acid-jazz groove of “Bad News“. Frazer states on his website that much of “Introducing…” is inspired by his current romantic relationship “the healthiest he’s ever been in”. So, on behalf of soul music lovers everywhere, let’s hope his relationship continues to flourish and inspires many more years of songs as fine as the album’s gospel-tinged closing track, “Leanin’ On Your Everlasting Love” – “When I feel beaten/ The going gets rough/ You are the reason/ I never give up”.
3: DURAND JONES & THE INDICATIONS – Private Space (Dead Oceans/ Colemine)
For me, Durand Jones & The Indications are currently the best soul/r&b band in the world. Whilst 2018s sublime “American Love Call” (AEB No.3) was rooted in classic 60s style retro-soul, across the 10 tracks of “Private Space” they’ve now embraced the coolest bits of the 70s and early 80s too. “The Way That I Do”, is the best Philly Soul track since the O’Jays were doing the rounds, and the joyous disco stomper “Witchoo” wouldn’t have sounded out of place in peak-time Studio 54. I guess when your band is blessed with 2 lead vocalists of such rare talent as Durand Jones and Aaron Frazer though, you’d be happy to back them singing the 1997 Yellow Pages (ask your mum) and be confident they’d make it sound amazing. Still need proof? Listen to the sublime “Love Will Work It Out” and you’ll hear what I mean.
2: CURTIS HARDING – If Words Were Flowers (ANTI-)
After 8 years as a solo artist, I think it’s safe to say that with “If Words Were Flowers”, Michigan’s Curtis Harding has finally arrived. That isn’t to say his 2014 debut, “Soul Power” or 2017 follow up, “Face Your Fear” (AEB No.17) aren’t great, hell no, they’re both fantastic records, but across the 41 minutes and 39 seconds of this exceptional album he has gone from talented squad member to star striker. What makes this album so special isn’t just the exceptional songwriting, as evidenced in the modern civil-rights anthem “Hopeful“: “Now in this present darkness/ All ears just listen/ A mass has formed to cure the common condition”, it’s also in the spacious production which allows his songs to “breathe” – “With You” and “Explore” both being prime examples. Harding hasn’t been scared to experiment with instrumentation either: take the psychedelic electronica and wonky Roxy sax of “Explore” or the jazzy flute blowing through the vocoder treated vocals of “So Low”. Just as The Temptations pushed the boundaries in 1969 with their groundbreaking psychedelic soul album “Cloud Nine”, “If Words Were Flowers” sees Harding treading a different path to many of his contemporaries. It’ll be really interesting to which direction he takes next.
1: THE CORAL – Coral Island (Run On Records/ Modern Sky UK)
And so we (finally) arrive at my favourite album of 2021. Normally, the words “double concept album” would have most self-respecting music lovers running for the hills, but fear not, “Coral Island” is a bloody masterpiece. This is their Ogden’s, their Village Green; if it had been released in 1968 I’m sure it would now be hailed as one the classic albums of that most inventive and eclectic of decades. I’m going to give you all a break now as I’m leaving you with a review of the album by someone who really can write. Rhys Buchanan’s article was in the NME the week before the record was released, and it remains one of the best summaries of this fine album that I read all year.
“The seaside can be a deeply meaningful place, stuffed with both joyous and melancholic memories. It can also be a great place to step back and reflect. The Coral have channelled these sentiments and more on their mammoth 10th studio effort ‘Coral Island’, an ambitious double-album that sees the Merseyside legends dig deep into their own romances and fantasies.
With over 20 years in the game, the band have found themselves looking to push the boundaries of their creativity, and there’s a hell of a lot going on in this adventure of a record. The first half strives to capture the thrilling bustle of a seaside destination’s summer months before the second side shifts focus onto bleaker tourist-free winters.
There are so many layers woven under the surface in fact, that the band felt it called for a tour guide. So they drafted in the services of the Skelly brothers’ 85-year-old granddad who provides gentle monologues throughout under the moniker of storyteller ‘The Great Muriarty’.
It might seem a lot to take in, but from the get-go, you’re pulled into a strangely familiar world as his soft North-West accent invites: “On Coral Island, you can fall in love/All the piers and promenades on the boardwalks and bridleways of innocent dreams…”
The music glues together such notions elegantly in ‘Lover Undiscovered’, a song soaked in sun-kissed melodies which embraces the warm glow of a perfect relationship. It’s evident the band are eager to let their songwriting shine and enjoy the playful thematic framework they’ve built. ‘Mist On The River’ evokes similar lovelorn feelings as a punchy and layered folk anthem complete with spritely pier-side keys.
Seaside imagery is dotted everywhere you look across the 24 tracks, whether that’s ‘Take Me Back To The Summertime’, where they sing about losing money at the penny arcades, or the striking ‘Strange Illusions’ which bids a dreamy farewell to ships upon the waves. Musically, there’s a vintage spirit and ‘Faceless Angel’ is one of many moments that throws back to the pre-Beatles era rock and roll of skiffle pioneer Lonnie Donegan. Elsewhere in the more melancholic second half ‘Old Photographs’ paints warm vignettes of yesteryear as they depict old scenes from the family album.
Sprinkled with the sound of distant seagulls and Hawaiian guitars for good measure, along with vivid storytelling, it’s a bold move for The Coral to come out with something so intricate at this stage of their career, even taking the time to pen an accompanying book. But immerse yourself in this heavily themed epic and you’ll be rewarded with a nostalgic trip that showcases some of their most adventurous writing to date”.
THE SPOTIFY PLAYLIST