he Concretes could well have one of the most misleading band names ever. The Swedish group’s gloriously plush musical offerings are more suited to rolling spring hills than the towering cityscapes to which their name pays tribute. Their latest sonic picnic, In Colour, wraps celebratory, sorrowful, and enigmatic lyrics in trademark babbling-brook, buttercup-meadow pop. Supported by a thorough chamber ensemble consisting of nearly full brass and string sections, glockenspiel, clarinet, and other knick-knacks, Victoria Bergsman’s tender vocals fall somewhere between Jenny Lewis and Regina Spektor as she ruminates on falling in and out of love, coping with death, and moving past all of it.
In Colour trades much of the punch from their first self-titled full-length for a more tender (is that even possible?) and reflective muse. With lines like “I am still glad you decided to give it a final try / Now all I wish for is your well deserved rest” from “A Way of Life” and “Just spend some time in the shade with me / Close your eyes don’t let go of it” from “Sunbeams,” the tip-toe melodies and feathery arrangements certainly seem appropriate. However, the album does get a jumpstart with the perky, über-catchy “On the Radio,” which features jaunty piano, bouncing synth and clarinet lines, and sweetly layered vocals. Of course, any opener that declares, “I must say it was love from the start,” is probably going to come out more warm-fuzzy than cold-prickly by default. With my Concretes sugar-fix satisfied, the group moves on to deeper things, most notably the destruction of the aforementioned warm-fuzzy feeling in the relationship-breaking tracks “Your Call” and “Fiction.”
“Your Call” features Romeo Stodart (of Magic Numbers) in a duet with Lisa Milberg, playing the other end of a cold dissolution. Instead of fury or bitterness, we get an air of resignation and regret, emphasized with tranquil pump organ, Wurlitzer, and flügelhorn. The song closes without assigning blame, as Milberg and Stodart twist the chorus to create multiple meanings (“Call me I’ll hang up / Call me a hang up / Call me, hang up”). “Fiction” follows, boosting the energy slightly with brighter horns and a simmering drumbeat. This time around, Bergsman dispenses advice with a slightly scolding air, offering up tidbits like “Try and turn the next page with some tenderness / And maybe things will take a nicer turn.” Just as you start to wonder where the fire is in all of this, the track (and the album) hits its stride. In classic Concretes fashion, the cute cotton candy arrangement slowly and almost imperceptibly builds and expands. Three minutes later, you’re getting blown out of the water as they start firing on all cylinders (and euphonium), and all you can do is just wonder how they slipped this uncontrolled celebration into a supposedly bitter, post-break rant.
Then again, I guess that’s par for the course for a group that throws together a string quartet, horn quartet, piano, Rhodes, organ, and eight vocalists into the last track, “Song For The Songs,” and manages to end up with a rollicking, neatly interlocking tribute (“This is for the songs / The songs we had to love”) instead of a polyphonic pile-up. With the kind of talent that’s on display on “Fiction” and “Song for the Songs,” The Concretes need to push the envelope. More layers. More Colour. A bigger backing band.
I suggest the Stockholm Philharmonic.
Reviewed by: Jeff Shreve
Reviewed on: 2006-04-25