Review: The Coral – Sea Of Mirrors

Artwork for The Coral's 2023 album Sea Of Mirrors

The Coral rip up the rulebook with Sea Of Mirrors.

In the past, musicians treated the idea of a concept album as if they were a pill being offered to them by a stranger; approach with caution, do once, then never get involved again.

The Coral, as we know however, are less inhibited by group-think. Having spent two decades gamely wearing the mantle assumed by those who come from within 30 miles of Liverpool but aren’t actually from it, they’ve successfully plotted their own distinct career path, one that enables them to have plenty of creative fulfilment whilst still popping up occasionally on The Best Indie In the World…Ever! type compilations.

But even given all this, you still never go second successive concept album, surely. And yet, here’s Sea Of Mirrors. This time the rickety and not entirely serious construct being played was to create the accompaniment for a spaghetti western where the creator, ‘couldn’t quite get the budget’, a vista modelled loosely on the soundtrack to Midnight Cowboy.

The twist though is that if you’re expecting gritted teeth, Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone, there’s actually very little of that dust and dirt to be found. Instead, the equivocation is often that of the mid-seventies’ Laurel Canyon type (a piquancy to be found especially on Child Of The Moon, The Way You Are and Faraway Worlds, the latter a dreamy, gentlest breeze of a song).

In keeping with the widescreen theme the opener, The Actor And The Cardboard Cowboy, Eleanor and Almeria are all instrumentals – although the last of that list is as slight as it is ominous.

For those who prefer things a little more Tarantino-esque, the celestial surf rock of North Wind is for you, and That’s Where She Belongs is the quintet at their most animated here, a terrific, freewheeling ode to a female light giver that carries more than a hint of Teenage Fanclub’s acerbic way with melody.

The fancy-meeting-you-here moment though is provided by Cillian Murphy, who delivers a gravelly voiceover at the end of the string-laden closer Ocean’s Apart, his final words perhaps a rallying call in the face of so much escapism: ‘Hear me/Get outside and face it.’

Sea of Mirrors’ companion, the physical-only sister album Holy Joe’s Coral Island Medicine Show is an even more cinematic, but sombre affair.

With narration once again provided by James and Ian Skelly’s grandad Ian ‘The Great Muriarty’ Murray, the characters here are nearly all without redemption, or even seeking it. Here, the Johnny Cash-isms of Baby Face Nelson help relay the tale of a shot dead bygone gangster, whilst The Sinner’s tremolo-soaked murder ballad comes over like The Shadows soundtracking Pulp Fiction.

Occasionally the widescreen bleeds into this tableau directly, with Dr. Who actor John Simm voicing over on The Drifter’s Prayer, but the lasting impression is one of sorrow and damnation (Never Be In Love Like That Again, Down To The Riverside, The Road Is Calling).

Such is the prevailing darkness that when the clouds do briefly part on the countryfied Long Drive To The City a weight feels temporarily lifted, but even that story ends up tainted, the subject admitting dolefully: ‘The only other way out of here/Is jumping from the pier.’

The rules say you should never go successive concept album(s), but The Coral have always lived in a separate world, one from which they seem to feel less and less disposition to leave.

Sea Of Mirrors and its little sibling are different corners of their desert, each equally both fascinating and fantastic, imperfectly woven but always compelling.

For a fistful of dollars, all that is yours.

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