The Coral's jocular self-titled debut kicked up quite a flurry of excitement when it washed ashore in the summer of 2002. Many reviewers gave a hearty cry of "Avast Ye Maties" when they discovered the band was from the picturesque seaside village of Hoylake, a deep-water anchorage in the borough of Wirral. Not since the Beatles, or perhaps even Echo & the Bunnymen, has a young band from England's blustery western coast caused this much commotion. Other critics have focused on their ages; at 21, lead singer/guitarist James Skelly was the oldest when this album was recorded, but the rest of these landlubbers were considerably younger, averaging somewhere closer to 19. The fantastic voyage that is The Coral, however, is the real discovery. The album begins with a two-minute psych-rock sea shanty, "Spanish Main," which bursts forth with a frothy and joyous refrain that sounds inspired by Treasure Island or Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean, perhaps. Along the way, the boys pick their way through somewhat-discarded flotsam and jetsam genres (mostly from the '60s), including 1964-era Merseybeat, horn-driven ska, fuzzed-out acid rock, and Brit-pop psychedelia. The aforementioned critics have fallen all over themselves trying to distill the Coral's various influences, name-checking a wide range of West Coast bands -- the Doors, Love, the Beach Boys, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and even the Banana Splits -- and even tossing in a handful of Londoners, like Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd and the Action. Others have opted to categorize the Coral as sounding closer, at least in spirit, to the Beta Band, Shack, or "a scouse Primal Scream on a skiffle tip." "Shadows Fall" is where this adventurous tale really finds its sea legs; the Top 30 U.K. single features an eccentric salmagundi of styles and sounds, including barbershop quartet vocals, Madness-style pop-ska, Russian Cossack folk, and a subtle Morricone-esque harmonica. The result is a bit jarring, but there's a fervent originality at work here, despite all of the referencing of the halcyon past. "Dreaming of You" is probably an even better example of what the Coral have to offer, with strong lead vocals and suitably cheeseball organ. "Simon Diamond" is effervescent 1967-style British psych-pop (Nirvana U.K. or Kaleidoscope U.K., take your pick), while the rambunctious "Skeleton Key" blends Zappa-esque guitars, serpentine Middle Eastern melodies, and flavorful horns. In addition to a massive heaping of critical praise, the Coral also managed to connect with an audience who plunked down enough gold doubloons to help this album land in the U.K.'s Top Ten charts. The Coral was subsequently nominated for the Mercury Music Prize.
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AllMusic Review by Bryan Thomas