Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Coral - Nightfreak and The Sons Of Becker

The Coral
Nightfreak and The Sons Of Becker

Released 2004 on Deltasonic
Reviewed by Andfurthermoreagain, 02/08/2010ce

Hoylake's favourite sons are back and better than they have been in a long while so here's a literal 'blast' and unique treat from their past!
The Coral are something of a ‘marmite’ band, people tend to either love em or hate em depending on the viewpoint – that of a gang of ramshackle folk heroes from the same cosmic-scouse lineage that brought us The La’s and Shack, or a derivative and annoyingly quirky collective of scally mops.
However, for all their so-called sins they never gave the world Valerie and if as once predicted they had become the great white hope of the 'noughties’ (and not the Li-berk-tines or T’Arctic Monkeys) the face of British guitar music today may have been a whole lot brighter and more eclectic than the recent rash of drainpiped, alchopop-punk pretenders. Here were a band who at the time of their joyously addictive debut were barely pushing into their twenties yet name dropping Arthur Lee, Morricone, Augustus Pablo, Scott Walker, Beefheart etc – yes requisite Liverpool band fare of course but Alex Turner’s Last Of The Shadow Puppets are possibly the only contemporary indie band to exhibit such taste with the nearly-getting-the-point Age Of The Understatement and even that took an alliance with liverpudlian upstart Miles Kane. Yet, the album actually sounds too much like an already-been-there-done-that Coral knockoff to be truly innovative. Still, you’d be lucky to find many young British indie bands these days boasting such a glorious pallet of influences with an almost text-book referencing of Oasis, The Clash and Paul Weller being the current norm. Yawn, sigh, thump!
Nightfreak And The Sons Of Becker is often overlooked in The Coral’s (mostly) impressive canon as it was a limited one-press mini-album and is frequently written off as a vanity trip exercise in spontaneity or a collection of b-sides in search of a decent single. Well, as far as I’m concerned there’s nothing wrong with ‘exercises in spontaneity’ especially in this day and age of three to five year waits between albums so there, oh critical brethren!
Nightfreak... was knocked out in a week with many of the songs being made up in session – the concept being an imaginary band consisting of the bastard love-children of randy tennis champ Boris Becker - my only complaint at this being that they actually put ‘The Coral’ on the sleeve and didn’t issue it as a true alter-ego collection a la Dukes Of Stratosphear or Naz Nomad & The Nightmares.
Essentially recorded just after the band completed their sophomore effort Magic And Medicine it was likely done for two reasons, 1. As a giddy return to the madcap eclectism of their debut (Magic & Medicine harbouring a more conventional song crafting) and 2. As a getting-it-out-of-our-system-because-we-don’t-want-to-be-written-off-as-zany-scouse-also-ran-wags effort. Problem being, once out of their system the band slipped into a slight trajectory of ordinariness and at times by-numbers blandness on the next two albums. (This year’s Butterfly House sees them adorning their skillfully classic songsmithery with an array of much more satisfying aural pleasures like phased drums, leslied harmonies and fuzztone rave ups but its taken some time and the loss of boy-child genius guitarist Bill Ryder-Jones to get back up there).
Anyway, clocking in at around 30 minutes (which is pretty good going for a so-called mini-album), Nightfreak could be filed under the same label as Julian Cope’s Skellington or Super Furry Animals’ welsh language (and utterly indispensible) Mwng (see a previous Unsung review).
In fact, in a funny sort of way, Nightfreak is a delicious fusing of the two – blending SFA’s frazzled psych-folk with Cope’s on-the-spot one-take no-nonsense directness! Two songs in particular – Migrane and I Forgot My Name – bring to mind the post-Fried, pre-Peggy Suicide Cope that brought us such sonic delights as Competition, King Plank, Transporting and Warwick The Kingmaker, yet with an unabashed Liverpool post-punk lunacy all of their own. In fact, if The Coral are a band usually indebted to the scouse legacy of Wah!, The Bunnymen, Michael Head, Lee Mavers et al, Nightfreak could be seen as a temporary shift onto the art-punk path initiated by Deaf School, Big In Japan, Yachts, Those Naughty Lumps and, alright then, Teardrop Explodes (but Mick Finkler, Paul Simpson era). Check out Venom Cable, Grey Harpoon and Auntie’s Operation for an almost seamless update of the Zoo/Eric’s Merseysound!
On the other hand the pastoral and darker, doomy acid-folk tinged tones of Song Of The Corn (was it going to be anything other than a Wicker Man-alike?), Sorrow Or The Song and Keep Me Company give credence to the SFA comparison and even suggest a niggling yet worthy Beta Band influence.
Whether this cracking oddity is a spontaneous couldn’t care less side-trip, an entertaining psychodramatic purge or an unfortunately pyrrhic creative victory, ultimately Nightfreak is a rush-of-blood delight from the start to it’s corny barbershop (seriously) end and a curious career high-point to this reviewer’s filthy ears!

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