Spring! And with it, the advent of this season’s crop of light, sugary pop albums designed to serve as background music as you luxuriate in the sun. At the fore of this season’s harvest are The Concretes, a Swedish octet who have a name that entirely fails to suggest the airiness of their music.
In Colour, the group’s sophomore LP (notwithstanding a ten-year history of EPs and singles), follows 2004’s eponymous first album. The Concretes was acclaimed for its pop sensibility and wormed its way onto many few critics’ top-ten lists. Two of the key elements of the album’s acclaim were its clever lyrics and its rather glacial sound. In Colour deserts all of this, instead focusing on the aforementioned warmth and typical pop tropes that one expects of the season. This is hardly a bad thing. Sugar is tasty, and The Concretes wend their way very carefully along the line between an extra spoonful to sweeten and an entire bag that just makes you ill. Consequently, when “In Colour” succeeds, it deals out well-crafted kitsch-pop; when it fails, you can only be thankful that lead singer Victoria Bergsman’s vocals are so breathy that you can ignore the words (and that the chief improvement of CDs over LPs is that skipping tracks is so easy).
A fair portion of the album’s success at mining tidbits of Americana must be credited to Mike Mogis’ production (Bright Eyes, Rilo Kiley); under his guidance we have added touches like the countrified strings of “Change In The Weather,” flute solos, backing synths, and the smoothness and sixtiesification that you feel with every gigantic collection of backing vocals behind Bergsman’s sighs. Indeed, it is these alternate sensibilities that help everything to stay on track during the album’s bad moments. Which over the course of 12 tracks, crop up pronouncedly in the class of music known as “the slow songs.”
Stay far from “Tomorrow” which only drags, and the boy-girl back-and-forth of “Your Call,” whose choruses look like a good idea on paper but in execution come off as a sad, rhythmless version of patty-cake. Both these numbers are, however, nestled around the guitars, horns, organ, and steel gloved acceleration of “Fiction” which is exactly what you want in the album. Indeed, the whole first block of the album shines with little jewels like the piano and choruses of “On The Radio,” and the percussion and flute solo on “Sunbeams.” And though it wobbles in the second half (horrifically so on “Ooh La La,” whose title is warning enough), the album closer “Song For The Songs” takes the best of everything before and tops it with piano, organ, horn solos, castanets, strings, jokes, and sheer exuberance.
It is strange to ask that a band be less diverse, or actually narrow their idiom, but on this outing the Concretes choke only when they slow down. For a band that was famous for emotional diversity, this is a bit of a shock, and a bad one. Thank goodness it’s spring. While it may be one sided, In Colour remains a well-crafted bon-bon for anyone who likes their pop soft and indie. And, with the birds chirping and the sun shining outside, who doesn’t want to have a bit of fun?