Britain isn’t the only country in the world where half the population seem to be obsessed with visions of it’s past, but you’d find it difficult to come across many other places where this communal longing is more acutely felt; from self-defeating votes to statues as culture, lust for regression seems everywhere.
The problem is that, once the layers of imperialist fantasy are stripped away, there’s actually much to celebrate about the little tracts of what we do around here, an incorruptible sense of Albion which flows kinetically from the highlands to the sea.
The Coral might seem unlikely torchbearers for that, but on their eighth, sprawling, double album Coral Island they show an affection for bygone theatre that runs deep, one only a group of natives brought up on queasy seaside traditions could so accurately snapshot.
This is helped by the fact that in many ways the quintet are an anachronism themselves, distilling sixties and seventies musical avatars with affection, paying scant heed to what’s going on through their phone screens. Such is their highly evolved telepathy that singer James Skelly claimed that they can agree to sound like “The Velvet Underground playing Motown” – and without further debate everybody knows their places.
Skelly et al are joined in briefly narrated cameos here by his 85-year-old grandad Ian Murray, a nod to the Hammer Horror-esque camp for which coastal resorts and their ghost trains and the suspension of real fear they engender in the temporarily innocent.
Murray’s interludes add some wonderfully playful narration, but the real story is how invigorated the band sound after an almost three-year break following the yacht rocky Move Through The Dawn. People who’ve always understood the intrinsic, now antique value of the single, opener Lover Undiscovered is a fine gateway to the big idea, but once you’ve bought your ticket and stepped through the gates there’s a classic richness of grain which is the work of practiced storytellers.
Like all good dreamscapes, much of it seems vaguely familiar, from the chopping lilt of Golden Age to the perfectly executed garage psychedelia of Vacancy and Watch You Disappear. That, like a ride on the waltzers or losing money on the teddy picker feels like a price of entry. The depth though comes via random turns of eccentricity; Land Of The Lost is a cinematic plea from some cursed show hand, Closer The Calico Girl is a rueful buskers air, Skelly wanting his passport out of the wintery closed up sideshow “To be gay and carefree, under my palm tree”, whilst Summertime and it’s gimmicky faux slide and old joanner pine for that long, hot smoker of ’76.
Seasons are a huge part of the nation’s neo-pagan psyche and indirectly make for the best songs here, The Game She Plays Aquarian pop with a breezy longing, whilst the melancholy Autumn Has Come is caught in dread of the moment the shutters have to come down for good.
The idea of a concept album when if you listen to the experts most people don’t have the patience to give you a second song is as gloriously against the times as the postcard, kiss-me-quick hat, and the rigged coconut shy. Coral Island is The Coral’s boldest, most imaginative charabanc in years, a scrapbook full of the warmth, hope and nostalgia which remain, whatever the cyber-bots will tell you, the best parts of us here in Blighty.