It's no great honor to be the pioneer in a wave of bands ripping off an old sound, but The Coral at least represents the best hope of that wave. Following the freewheeling freak-beat of The Coral and the tighter, folkier Magic And Medicine, the band carried its post-Zombies baggage through the jammy maelstrom of Nightfreak And The Sons Of Becker, an off-the-cuff record that was mostly a botch. But Nightfreak showed that The Coral had more in its long-range plans than merely rehashing songs from the sunny psychedelic era. Can The Zutons say the same?
The Coral's fourth album, The Invisible Invasion, restores songcraft without losing much ambition. The album kicks off with "She Sings The Mourning," a galloping pop nightmare shot through with images of death and depravity creeping into a verdant glen. The rest of the album is dotted with lines like "Conspiracy in the corridor," "There'll never be another century," and "The madman's in the desert," sung by James Skelly in an even-toned voice that makes the prophesies of doom all the more unnerving. The titular "invisible invasion" seems to be complacency, as a global citizenry grows increasingly accustomed to atrocities.
The music that accompanies Skelly's scattershot doom-vision isn't nearly so bleak. As always, most of the songs are cemented by Paul Duffy's bouncy bass and Nick Power's buzzing organ, which hold together the shuffling percussion and interwoven guitars. On songs like "Cripples Crown" and "So Long Ago," the inattentive could almost imagine Skelly and company singing brightly about times gone by (à la "Penny Lane"). And even more apocalyptic-sounding tracks like "The Operator" and "Arabian Sand" have too much poppy lilt to chase listeners off. That contrast between pleasant sounds and scary words carries The Invisible Invasion's theme. If not for light, flaky confections like "In The Morning," the imminent demise of life as we know it wouldn't seem so bad.