While much of Britain continues to drool over every American band that ever owned a Gang of Four or Television record, their countrymen are busy creating music that's fantastically outdated, even by seventies standards. Liverpudlian sextet The Coral inhabit the brown, fuzzy end of the sixties spectrum -- a land of bastardized blues standards and truncated R&B wailing once ruled by Eric Burdon (as a member of both the Animals and War), John Mayall and Steppenwolf. Devoid of capricious irony or press-button trousers, the band are ready to stake their claim as the form's preeminent throwbacks -- a pack of wild-eyed blues mongers salivating over the corpses of Charley Patton and Muddy Waters.
Though their first record was fraught with schizophrenia, Magic and Medicine is the work of a band willing and able to make choices, whether musical, spiritual or psychological. They no longer wander aimlessly down any musical path that appears before them; in their debut, they staggered down every conceivable road (prog-rock, salsa, boogie, folk and heavy metal represent just a portion of the terrain covered) in search of a defining identity, only to emerge with an inconsistent album of frustrating ambition. They've experienced no such trouble here, having transformed their lingering frustrations into a sleek, burberry-tinged vision of spectranomic loveliness.
The sashaying "Liezah" is as dewy as a summer meadow, a sparkling country ditty held hostage by a band of acid-dropping hippie surfers, and the careening "Milkwood Blues" is Zappa-like in its extraterrestrial extrapolations of 12-bar blues. One-two punch "In the Forest" and "Don't Think You're the First" are golden psychedelic nuggets, roughed up by scratchy production and James Skelley's verdant growl. "Eskimo's Lament" is all spinning wheel sunshine and brass-infused bluster, while the stinking barroom lurch of "Pass it On" is just a front for a beautiful melody line and spectral glockenspiel picking.
The special US edition of Magic and Medicine comes with a bonus disc that contains The Coral's brand new album Nightfreak and the Sons of Becker, but alas, we were given the UK edition for review, and therefore cannot comment on Nightfreak's relative merits/shortcomings.
Blues purists are likely to cite The Coral as Howlin' Wolf in sheep's clothing. Though it's fair to question their sense of tradition, they succeed where other blues-aping artists, like Gomez and Arnold, have failed, because they're not wholly indebted to the customs of the blues. They've merely co-opted its grisly spirit and transformed it into something unique.