Rock has a historically low tolerance for comedy. Sure, the Chili Peppers used to run around with socks on their cocks, but once they started selling records the music took on a more serious tone; "Party on Your Pussy" wouldn't exactly fit on Californication, 'cause music ain't supposed to be funny--right?
Liverpool's The Coral would beg to differ. The band's self-titled debut is a baked, boggling, stupendous mess that will leave you either smiling or scratching your head, a timeless treasure that defies category or convention--experimental and humorous like Frank Zappa or Captain Beefheart, but less self-fellating and more earnest. The disc's collage artwork is a good indication of the pasted-together styles and the psychedelic vibe to be found inside. The first track, "Spanish Main," isn't so much a song as it is an opening theme, with the pillaging musical pirates repeating the refrain "We'll set sail again/We're heading for the Spanish Main." From there, the disc is a series of left turns that almost always end up headed in the right direction: "Remember When" is a stop-and-go number highlighted by James Skelly's soulful vocals and an impromptu Cossack dance; the infuriatingly catchy "Dreaming of You" channels Madness; and "Goodbye" cranks up The Byrds to 11. The only blatant misstep is "Simon Diamond," the story of a man who somehow became a plant in which we learn "now he's swapped his legs for roots/His arms and soil are in cahoots."
Only occasionally too clever, The Coral is a celebration of weirdness; lampooning rock, ska and reggae, with more saxophone and xylophone solos than guitar noodling. The Coral, like avant-garde contemporaries Super Furry Animals and The Beta Band, challenge the rock formula with irreverence and bookish charm. It's a tack that probably won't fly here in the states, where we like our tits big, our beer cold and our rock hard. Then again, that Weird Al guy is kinda funny.
The Coral performs March 14 at Gypsy Tea Room, with Supergrass.
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