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Sweden’s Concretes craft lovelorn, urban pop

Joe Meixell | Thursday, September 2, 2004

Let’s face it: love receives bushels (and pecks) more than its share of consideration on the vast pop music landscape. If your senior prom DJ tried to play every love song ever written in succession without stopping, it would double as your diamond anniversary gala and then some.

Heck, South Bend boasts an entire radio station devoted to such music. So it comes as a most-welcome breath of fresh air when a band like Sweden’s The Concretes quietly introduces such a stellar self-titled debut.

The Concretes, presently eight-members strong and naming itself after the most ubiquitous building material in its native Stockholm, concoct love songs of a different sort. Album-opener “Say Something New” sets the tone, as chanteuse Victoria Bergsman laments, “And all the things / I had in mind / for you and me …” The narrator’s moribund romance is accentuated perfectly by the introduction of a woozy horn section. This and the songs that follow provide the yang to love’s yin, documenting the subtleties of the no-man’s land between romances, all to the tune of gorgeous, sophisticated pop arrangements.

Bergsman addresses each of the stages of non-love in turn on “The Concretes”. In “Chico,” she coos about seeking companionship in the title pet cat, while on “Diana Ross” she sings of the solace she finds in the diva’s songs, proclaiming, “I didn’t know what I feel / but you know what I feel.”

“You Can’t Hurry Love,” an energetic two-minute romp and one of the album’s standout tracks, deals with the frustration and desire to hastily reclaim love once one has lost it. Other tracks explore contradictory impulses: the singer despairs over her ex-lover’s new flame in “New Friend,” while hinting at a fling of her own on the piano-and-vocal ditty “Foreign Country.” The album’s centerpiece and another of its finest moments is the waltz “Warm Night,” which finds Bergsman hopeful, yet cautious as she waxes romantic once again. These stages culminate in the tellingly-titled penultimate track “Lonely As Can Be” before at last drifting into calm uncertainty with the enigmatic closing lines, “Here comes the dark / He knows the dark.” Perhaps Bergsman is invoking the image of her lover-to-someday-be, one who has shared her experience in the bleak realm of non-love?

Musically, The Concretes’ jungle of orchestration is lush yet navigable. Guitars, horns, strings, a xylophone and an electric organ swirl into a rich pop mosaic, punctuating the moods and cadences captured in Bergsman’s lyrics. At the same time, The Concretes exercise a restraint seldom seen in bands half their size – several songs here barely cross the two-minute threshold, and never do the arrangements stray far from each song’s emotional and thematic core. The result is something imminently memorable, a series of impressions that remain with the listener long after harp and strings dance to a finale on the album’s closer, “This One’s For You.” As far as characterizing the band’s sound, musical points of reference include fellow Swedes The Cardigans and chic popsters Ivy, as well as simple-yet-sophisticated sixties acts like The Mamas and the Papas and The Beach Boys.

If Diana Ross proved panacean to the lovesick generation that spawned The Concretes, these Swedes may indeed have created the cure for romantic maladies of the post-modern age.