Review: James Skelly & The Intenders – Love Undercover
Published on June 13th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
Love Undercover, the debut album from The Coral front man James Skelly and his new band The Intenders, kicks off with the beaming, sun-smooched classic soul-pop blast of “You’ve Got it All”, one of those tunes that transcends its own air of derivation by dint of a warming love of the game and the assets – in this case, Skelly’s rasping voice – to grant it both authenticity and a signature. No matter how suspiciously familiar those guitar lines may be, this is ideal summer playlist fodder.
Elsewhere, however, the material isn’t quite striking enough to justify the constant flow of – intentional or otherwise – tributes. “Do It Again” is a diverting bluesy romp with an ace burping guitar and a bouncy swagger about it, but it’s nowt to truly invigorate, certainly not as much as The Coral at their best; “Here for You”, unfortunately, is both a little dull and unclear in terms of sincerity, insomuch as it’s hard to tell whether it stems more from love for another person or merely love for classic soul records. Ironically, the notion of it being the latter detracts from the very soul of the thing; it’s hard to explain, it just feels kind of perfunctory.
It’s hard to hear Skelly sing “I-I-I-I’m not your sacrifice” without expecting him to conclude with “stepping stone”, and even The Coral’s ouevre is mined: the beginning “ooh” of chorus to “Searching for the Sun” errs slightly towards the chorus melody from “Pass the Feeling”. The luscious harmonies, slide guitar and Rolling Stones boogie of “Set You Free” will register as pure, sweet and honest for some, as flat-out homage to others. As it’s often wont to, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, and indeed the ensuing “What a Day” exhibits some exquisite songwriting and arrangements on its way to being the best track here since “You’ve Got It All”.
From thereon in, funnily enough, Love Undercover picks up: “I’m a Man” welcomes some new colours to the fold in the form of harmonising Mariachi trumpets and saloon piano, somehow reminding of a latter-day Supergrass in the midst of its different-to-the-rest-of-the-album-sounding production. It’s more chorusy/trebly, or is that just us? Anyway, “Darkest Days” finishes things off with elegant acoustic fingerpicking that goes lovely places, its echo-y harmonies part Simon and Garfunkel part Surf’s Up-era Beach Boys. Then it ends with a great psych guitar line.
So, what happened there, then? Hopefully the lion’s share of Love Undercover was just something that Skelly had to get out of his system, and the last few tracks point the way forwards. As a whole, we prefer the twinkly psychedelia of his brother Ian’s Cut from a Star album but both leave the impression that there’s better yet to come from them in a solo capacity, not to mention when they team up in The Coral.
Rocksucker says: Three Quails out of Five!
Love Undercover is out now on Skeleton Key.