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The Concretes

In Colour

(Astralwerks; US: 4 Apr 2006; UK: 13 Mar 2006)

When I was 18, I had the kind of intense crush you label “love” at that age. She was a medical student several years older.  She was an incredibly vital presence that always needed to be the center of attention, but talented enough to deserve to be—a dancer who never put a step out of place. She had a reputation, though, for promoting unsuspecting guys to the front and center of her life for a brief, intense moment before moving on to her next temporary interest. In the aftermath of my demotion, we coined a term for these: we called ourselves her “chosen ones.” For a few months in the first half of 2000, I was a chosen one.

This (to you) inconsequential memory was triggered not by the lyrics to “Chosen One”, track four on The Concretes’ new CD, In Colour, but by the intense feeling of nostalgia that is the album’s overwhelming theme. There are twelve songs on In Colour, arranged on the CD itself in the positions of the hours of a clock; two of these deal with changing seasons, a number with falling in and out of love, a couple with the effects of the passing years—and it’s all wrapped in a deep nostalgia for the music of our parents’ generation.

Check out these lyrics for the disc’s central song, “Tomorrow”:

Yesterday I lost me a memory
I kept too long for no good reason
They seem to hang around to greet the future
And what goes around will come around most likely

Primary vocalist Victoria Bergsman’s voice carries a soft beauty while glockenspiel, vibraphone, and string machines provide a melancholy, memory-stained accompaniment.

You know The Concretes from, if nothing else, that Target commercial; the song, the catchiest from their self-titled debut, is “Say Something New”. There’s nothing that breezily addictive on In Colour, unfortunately. The song that most closely approaches “Say Something New” is “On the Radio”, which kicks off the album. To the accompaniment of plonk-plonk piano and glockenspiel, Bergsman croons like a Swedish Linda Ronstadt. Is she singing about a lover or one of those old songs that have so clearly inspired the band?

The tribute to Ronettes/Jesus & Mary Chain/countless other pop groups of previous generations is made patent in the closing cut, “Song for the Songs”. On it, each of the three founding members of the group pay tribute to different songs and artists that motivated them. I couldn’t work out the cryptic clues in all the lyrics, but Bergsman has said that one of the five songs honored is “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight” by Richard and Linda Thompson. If you can work out the others, you have a ready-made list of Concretes’ influences.

I guess you could describe many of the songs here as, well, pleasant. The ‘60s sunshine-pop “Sunbeams” is characteristic: it lacks a chorus you remember, just adding harmony to the kind of breezy melody that could be a verse. “Your Call” is tender duet with Magic Numbers vocalist Romeo Stodart, with the smooth harmonies of a Simon & Garfunkel ballad. But the shambolic, chaotic joy that you might expect from songs that incorporate guitar, saxophone, flute, organ, euphonium, and many other instruments (and which was the great appeal of The Concretes) is largely absent on In Colour. The only place it appears is in the coda to “Fiction”, when all the instruments are thrown together. More of this, please, on the next album; it’s great!

The eclectic variety of styles is presumably a result of the collaborative compositional style of the group, which is shared between the eight Concretes. It’s manifested in the country influences of violins on “Change in the Weather” and “Grey Days” (on which Lisa Milberg assumes vocal duties). The former is energetic, optimistic pop: “There’s a change in the weather / Don’t go to work… Here’s to everyone, sing along”. But “Grey Days”, though pretty enough, doesn’t leave a lasting impression.

The precise and correct feeling that should immediately follow memories like the derivation of my friends’ use of “chosen one” is to think, “I was such an idiot.” But in the case of In Colour, if you’re bewitched by The Concretes’ backward-looking Technicolor pop, there’s no need to feel like you’ve been duped. The record is filled with solid, sunny pop melodies—the kind that could find their way onto that mix CD you were thinking about for your own chosen one. On track four, Bergsman ends with the words, “Have you seen my chosen one recently / If you do, tell him I’m in for love.” Despite its flaws, you know, I’m in for The Concretes.


Dan Raper has been writing about music for PopMatters since 2005. Prior to that he did the same thing for his college newspaper and for his school newspaper before that. Of course he also writes fiction, though his only published work is entitled "Gamma-secretase exists on the plasma membrane as an intact complex that accepts substrates and effects intramembrane cleavage". He is currently studying medicine at the University of Sydney, Australia.

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