The Scandinavians have an element of mystery, they seem to kind of want to keep themselves to themselves - could it be that they don't trust the rest of the world, or could it be that they want to keep all the good stuff for themselves. On the strength of Ikea furniture, Sven Goran Eriksson's diamond formation, Henrik Larsson and The Concretes new album I'd favour the latter.
Packed full of glorious melodies, and sweeping and swooning harmonies this album, simply titled 'The Concretes' tells its own tale. A stunning panacea for all that is currently wrong with pop music - and yes, 'pop' is the only way to describe their genre - The Concretes deliver a record that washes over you with an enigmatic opulence so rarely found in today's hit parade. The core of the band is an all female three piece of Victoria Bergsman, Maria Eriksson, and Lisa Milberg - almost reminiscent of the sixties Motown girl groups, The Supremes, The Ronettes, The Shangri-Las, but when they draft in the peripheral members it seems like the entire Stockholm harp and glockenspiel orchestra is in attendance. The result being a wall of lush sound coming at you from all angles. If The Concretes are kicking against the oppression of those long, cold, dark Scandinavian nights then they are succeeding, this record effortlessly transports you to a warm, sun kissed beach, where the palms gently sway in the breeze and the clear aqua marine ocean laps playfully at the sand. They create their own Shangri-La, and share it with us all.
'Say Something New' kicks off proceedings and sets the tone for the rest of the album. Quality of both song-writing and performance rarely dips below high standards set here. Victoria Bergsman's vocals are an immediate focal point, swinging between almost childlike and positively authoritarian it's hard to settle with them. Throughout the album however there is a definite feel of Nico and The Velvet Underground. And that makes a refreshing change, a European voice singing with a European accent rather than idle imitation with an American twang. This is utterly re-assuring.
The first two tracks ('Say Something New' and 'You Can't Hurry Love' - don't panic, it's not the Phil Collins song, but it is one of a number of acknowledging nods to Diana Ross on this album) are a more than lively opener before the soundtrack settles down to a more steady, even tempered pace. It's like a well written screen play, a gripping opening, followed by the body of the story where we become familiar with the characters before the enthralling denouement of 'Lonely As Can Be' and 'This One's For You'.
The delicate frailties of 'Chico', the subversion of U2's
'One' during 'New Friend', the regimentation of 'Diana Ross' and her love hangover - it's so easy to get into this.
'Warm Night' is just that, reminiscent of hazy and lazy evenings when the world just seems to drift past, yet we ourselves seem to be right at the centre of it. The most important cog in the wheels of time. 'Foreign Country' is a travelling song, it feels like a long rail journey through Europe, watching from a window seat as the different cultures and landscapes slide by. If 'Foreign Country' is the journey then 'Seems Fine' and 'Lovin Kind' are the destination. The former being a continental beach side party, late into the Mediterranean evening, with the sunset glowing and the drinks flowing, and the latter being the late morning wreckage of the night before. A desperate hopefulness drags itself through the torpor in search of the youthful passions of yesterday.
And of course, it finds the youthful passions of yesterday, they're all here laid bare. In a format that draws inspiration from the aforementioned Nico, from St. Etienne, and from Mazzy Star and presents them as a slice of perfect Scando-Pop. It's there for everyone to see, and to hear. The Concretes are not obvious pop stars, and whether or not they will trouble the singles top ten remains to be seen. However, as anyone with a sense of pop sensibility is all too aware what happens on Top of The Pops isn't necessarily what is good. And so, in the ongoing battle against the Pop Idols and the Fame Academy these classic pop entrepreneurs have decisively nailed their colours to the mast, taken up a defiant stance and sent out a clear message to all who care about music. Come and get it if you think you're pop enough.