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Wednesday 17 January 2024

Skeleton Key

Another of the CD singles recently discovered in a neglected corner of my CD collection is one of the earliest releases by a bunch of teenagers from Wirral, The Coral. Skeleton Key came out in 2002, a four track EP with a couple of bonus features to attract the singles buyer- a sticker (still inside the case) and the video for the title track which you could watch if you had a computer in 2002 (I didn't). The band, six still very young men from Hoylake, had a basket full of cosmic scouse influences and soon they were exposed to manager Alan Wills' record collection, bringing music by Can, Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, and Kraftwerk into their earshot (Wills had formerly drummed for Shack). Skeleton Key, the EPs title track was considered a turning point for the band in songwriting terms, a breakthrough.

Nothing really prepares you for putting the Skeleton Key CD into the CD player and clicking play. The music is a ramshackle burst of electric guitar, rapid fire rhythms and bawled vocals, sea shanty and pirate lyrics, shipwrecks and rocks. 'Will I ever return? Will I ever get back?', James Skelly asks as the guitars, somewhere between The 13th Floor Elevators and early Pink Floyd, fire off.  There's a slow down with a xylophone part and then some manic shouting and playing, followed by the weird ending, voices and a completely different song. Most of the band were only 19 or 20 at this point, guitarist Bill Ryder- Jones even younger. This was not the sort of music most late teenagers would be making in the early 21st century. Everyone else was into The Strokes. The Coral were taking a hectic neo- psychedelic/ folk music/ spaghetti Western hybrid into the world. 

Skeleton Key

Dressed Like A Cow is no less unhinged, a tad more conventional maybe, with some 60s songwriting at its centre. 'Well I went to a movie with a girl last night/ Dressed like a cow but she looked so fine', are the opening lines. Meanwhile the song lurches around with strange time signature changes, abrupt turns and notes screaming from the top of the fretboard and from the keys. It ends in an explosion. 

Dressed Like A Cow

Things calm down on song three, Darkness, which starts out with harmonica and sweet singing, echoes of Dylan in 1968, and some lovely guitar playing. 


Sheriff John Brown closes the EP, a six minute Americana/ blues via the Wirral peninsula epic, the guitars, organ and voice sounding like The Animals (not a popular or even niche influence in 2002). The lyrics tell a tale of authority, corruption and injustice. Sheriff John Brown, song four on a four song EP, struck a chord with fans and the band played it often live thereafter. 

Sheriff John Brown

Of these four songs Skeleton Key turned up on their debut album, released in July 2002 and produced by Ian Broudie. My CD single has not just the sticker still inside it but the postcard to send off to an address in Leamington Spa to get news and info about the band. I'm guessing its a bit late to do that now. I still can't decide where to put the sticker either. 


Anonymous said...

Brilliant time capsule entry

JC said...

Having read so much positive stuff about Bill Ryder-Jones' latest album, I decided to give a fresh listen to The Coral's eponymous album (I rarely play CDs nowadays).

There's a lot on it that I've always enjoyed, but there's also stuff which kind of got on my nerves back in 2002 that I found myself appreciating much more this time around.

Swiss Adam said...

I've been back to the debut album too, lots to enjoy. They were so young in 2002.