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The Concretes: Hey Trouble

Licking Fingers Records

Written by Marco Barbieri

Five albums in, medications malady and with only mild commercial success to date, it would be a reasonable assessment to describe Rufus Wainwright’s dramatic, theatrical pop as something of an acquired taste. For many, he over eggs the pudding , and then some. But whilst bold ambition may be a deterrent to some, his loyal fans will rejoice at this offering. This is classic Rufus, and whilst it wont be winning him many new fans, this simply doesn’t matter. This is a record to admire, it may even be his most satisfying work to date.

As expected, Wainwright offers up his usual mix of epic and restrained throughout the 13 songs, and there are a number of gems. Striking orchestration and characteristically high in the mix Rufus vocals lead us into opener Do I Dissapoint You. It is a brilliant opening song to set the tone for what is to follow. The diversity of instruments employed here alone is staggering, and like many songs throughout the album the arrangement is gloriously ambitious. The recurring operatic theme, present throughout all his previous work has been thankfully maintained.

First Single Going To A Town (which was B listed by Radio 2) follows. Its mournful tones echoing latter day Beatles balladry (think Fool On The Hill) and it features the albums most engaging lyrics. Amidst numerous misforgivings with his homeland, Wainwright again finds himself lost in the confusion of love and religion (another recurring theme here), “Tell me, do you really think you go to hell for having loved?” he pleads. For all the record’s grandiose, it is these moments of human insecurity that really strike a chord. It is also one of a number of outstanding vocals on the record.

The pace doesn’t let up throughout the opening half – Nobody’s Off The Hook, Between My Legs and Tiergarten sit easily amongst the artists best work. But, it cannot quite be maintained throughout the second half – a better focus on sequencing next time perhaps. But this is a minor gripe. With each listen, hidden depths are revealed, suggesting that this is a record that will endure also. It is a joy.

Troubles! That’s exactly what the Concretes got into during the last year. One of the three founding members and nonetheless the lead vocalist of the band decided to quit to start her solo project Taken by Trees. If that was not enough the destiny decided to punish them furthermore and as a result they had all their equipment stolen during the U.S. tour. Quite a difficult time for a band, sildenafil isn’t it? However, The Concretes decided to look ahead and continue their career as a seven piece band, giving Maria Erikkson the difficult task to substitute the charismatic and easily recognisable voice of Victoria Bergsman.

This story has definitely something in common with that of another band that I always considered in some way similar to the Swedish one; the departure of one of the founding member of the Concretes is very similar to the loss of Mary Hansen for Stereolab. Such a change is always reflected in the future work of a group, especially if it is not a one man band but a sort of democratic collective that works together in order to create the soft and tender melodies that Concretes‘ fans are used to. Anyway the Swedish guys made it and here they are with a new release on Licking Fingers. The main problem of this 12 track cd is certainly the already discussed new lead vocalist, however, if we consider the work in its context, what we have is a quite enjoyable, typically northern European pop record. Simple and direct lyrics are mixed with a light pop approach to composition. It is definitely easy- listening music that in some of its shapes can be compared with Peter Bjorn and John, another very fashionable Swedish project.

Probably my favourite track has to be considered the positive Firewatch with its guitar arpeggio that together with constant background drums and lyrics like “If you promise to be here I’ll do the same” certainly gives no real surprise to the listener but goes straight to the point: just plain and sophisticated pop.

The album’s start is slow and not very catchy, however the tracklist is well organized and creates a sort of work in progress that leads to songs like the more rocking Oh Boy or Keep Yours, an almost danceable track where Maria Erikkson’s ‘out of tune’ vocals seem really to be in the right place. With If We’re Lucky We Don’t Get There On Time we are introduced into a dreamy atmosphere; in this case the lead vocalist is supported by a second male voice and there are soft beats reminiscent of the Velvet Underground.

It is as if The Concretes were trying to give us a pause, a break from the pretty plain music stream of the album. Then, Are you Prepared takes you directly to some eighties light-hearted pop with the singer constantly repeating “Are you prepared to wake up with me?”. Oh No, on the other hand, is probably the little treasure of this album: the band really seem to work collectively again building an epic wall of sound.
The overall result is not the best achievement by the Swedish band, but still it manages to be delicate and not boring. It’s simple and there is nothing unexpected. All the songs start as you want them and finish exactly when you would say it’s the proper time to stop. Nonetheless they are enriched with a very quality instrumental texture that makes you listen to the album again and again.


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