There’s an obstacle to tackle before listening to ‘Love Undercover’, the debut album from James Skelly and The Intenders, and it’s the acceptance that this ISN’T The Coral. Understandably, there might be some initial confusion as original members pepper the band with Paul Duffy on guitar, Ian Skelly on drums, Nick Power on piano and, of course, James Skelly as the ever-fringed frontman. Just as Beady Eye aren’t Oasis, Atoms For Peace aren’t Radiohead and Ian Brown isn’t The Stone Roses, this six piece are a far cry from The Coral.
Mod has reached the mainstream and it’s revival is felt in every beat and strum of the opening track ‘You’ve Got It All’. It doesn’t come as much of a shock that God of Mod Paul Weller co-wrote it. Skelly’s critics are likely to argue from the commandments of mod that it’s not just a trend but a way of life (mod is for life and not just for christmas, kids) and The Intenders are merely flirting with the genre. However, they take the best elements of the subculture to produce a full and ripe track; an upbeat melody, cynical lyrical content and a beat you can bop down Shepherd’s Bush Market to like an extra from Quadrophenia. Formed in 1996 and reaching fame in early 2000 means The Coral straddle the genres of Britpop and indie so a more mod-rock sound separates the two very different ventures of each group.
‘Do It Again’ is the lead single and its place on the album is clear. There’s something timeless about an intro of solely drums and bass that just intrinsically works. It draws you closely in then aurally throws your ears first into the heart of the track. It worked for The Clash’s ‘Janie Jones’, Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust For Life’ and, with added tambourine, Jet’s ‘Are You Gonna Be My Girl?’. At it’s core, it’s a summer anthem; a drive-fast-windows-down kind of single which will certainly increase its availability. Best of all, it’s available to download for free from their website.
Surprisingly, slower tracks shape a great deal of ‘Love Undercover’ but their weight within the album is a little abstruse. While ‘Here For You’ and ‘You And I’ are lyrically heavy with feeling, the songs don’t travel any real musical distance. There’s a sense that they’re space-fillers in this eleven track album. At the same time, they embody the album title ‘Love Undercover’ by essentially being love songs under the cover of seemingly average melodies. “Nothing in this world that I wouldn’t do/If you need someone I’m here for you” sings James in ‘Here For You’ under the shroud of Nick Power’s piano accompaniment that acts as a smoke screen between the listener and the meaning.
It’s an album of peaks and troughs and later tracks pick up in tempo and exploration. Skelly and his band manoeuvre through a wealth of genres, from the soulful “ooh’s” that soften the background of ‘Darkest Days’ to the Spanish trumpet fanfare that opens ‘I’m A Man’ to the piano balladry that ‘Sacrifice’ delivers. Glasses raised to the former Coral cohort for taking steps forward down an uncovered path as opposed to steps backwards down memory lane. The end product is something wholly different to any of The Coral’s six albums.
James Skelly and The Intenders are set to tour the UK this month. It kicks off June 6 at Leeds Brudenell Social Club. Tickets are available from www.ents24.com. At £10.50 a ticket, it’d be positively rude not to.
‘Love Undercover’ is released on Skeleton Key Records on 3 June.