Maybe it’s the tang of salt in the air that coos to my black pirate heart, the unfurling of topsails and the night’s tot of rum after watch on deck. Or maybe it’s the grog-drenched yo-ho-ho-ing of “Spanish Main,” or just the fact that The Coral have a song called “Spanish Main” and sing about setting sail for it. There’s something distinctly swashbuckling about this 12-song, around-the-world Golden Hind of a debut album by six likely lads who can literally see the Beatles’ hometown from their curious little peninsula, the Wirral, that sticks out into Liverpool Bay like a solitary tooth. There’s piracy afoot, me hearties, and piracy of the best kind.
Where do you start unpacking and sorting through a treasure chest that includes sea chanties, Transylvanian lullabies and kryptonite-strength psych damage all in the first song? An album with vintage teen-lust Merseybeat on equal hit-footing with Captain Beefheart back-ending pre-Rubber Soul Beatles mid-song and morphing into the Jefferson Airplane by the time the dust clears? Start where these early-twentysomething buccaneers started, that’s where, which is rifling through Mummy and Dad’s album collection looking for psychedelic sounds that haven’t already been hauled out of the grave and propped up on Top of the Pops by the likes of Oasis. The Coral is a startling debut by any standards, and all the more impressive for how cheekily it pulls off its sins of eclecticism.
There’s nothing the least bit interesting or original about simply ramming together unlikely styles like psych and ska, punk and reggae—that’s just being clever, or desperate, like Limp Bizkit covering a George Michael song. What’s interesting is when you look at the tissue where the graft took hold and notice that the new bond is suddenly something else and stronger than the rest of it. Whoa, harmonies like that weren’t part of the original style, were they? Whoa, the Beatles never worried about how to make themselves sound like Captain Beefheart for 30 seconds in the middle of a song and have it work, did they?
The Coral put a lot of care into pulling their plundered pieces together into something original. There’s nothing original in pop music now anyway, no sui generis brilliance working in a complete vacuum; it’s all about fitting the pieces together in some interesting or comfortably familiar way. The Coral certainly do. And any band with a vocalist who sounds like a cross between Eric Burdon and Ian McCulloch of Echo and the Bunnymen is doing something right.The Action
If The Coral is the result of excitable young musical omnivores devouring their parents’ LP collections, The Action’s Rolled Gold is the sound of a band tough enough to go toe-to-toe with The Creation or The Who dropping out of the mod race and letting the spores of nascent psychedelia waft into their moister crevices and sprout there. One of the great obscure bands of the late mod era, The Action had the ear of several prestigious record labels during the transitional period captured on Rolled Gold, but never dented the charts or even released more than a scant handful of singles in their homeland. The songs on Rolled Gold were originally recorded in the mid-’60s as demo tracks for a forthcoming album, but the album was never completed and The Action’s big break never materialized. What does materialize in listening to these rough recordings, though, is the discouraging sense that it must have taken a cruel chain of circumstances indeed to leave their ship foundering in the harbor.
The new psychedelic emanations irradiating Rolled Gold exert their most unmistakable effects on the lyrics of songs like “Come Around” (“Let us be one another, let us put our hearts together/Let the god in each of us reach out and kiss the sky above”), “Love Is All” and “Strange Roads,” repeatedly soaring to early heights of sunshine sentiment. It’s also a reliable indication that a band has discovered LSD when they start singing about themes from Greek mythology, as on “Icarus.”
“Little Boy” begins with the clip-clop of horse’s hooves, pans into a chord progression straight out of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and heralds this marvelous message of child liberation: “Little boy, going to school/Just beware you’re living by the rule/Take your time, learn how to play/And gradually the rules will fade away.” And just when you think it’s safe to start hugging, the lyrics accompanying the Troggsian rock breakdown in the middle of the sunshine haze add to the album’s pervasive sense of lysergic ego-annihilation with this abrupt departure: “Daddy was a rich man, had a million pounds/My mother was a whore, man, way downtown...”
There’s a killer half-hour album in the rough lying about unassembled on this 50-minute disc. None of the 14 tracks on Rolled Gold are filler, exactly, but since the band’s intention was presumably to re-record them at a later date for an album that never happened, they didn’t bother finishing lyrics to all of them, for instance on “Brain.” The raw, enthusiastic quality of even the unfinished tracks nonetheless makes them a pleasure to listen to, and Rolled Gold offers more than a few flashes of brilliance like the light of a distant quasar just now reaching Earth. The Action never got famous, but hopefully they got a ton of girls. Check out this musical pick-up line from the jangly jawhanger “Something to Say”: “I’ve got something here that might interest you/Something very clear, very dear to me/It’s a list of dreams that I’ve had about you.” Damn!