When Heath Ledger won the Academy Award for The Dark Knight Returns, it was an honour that primarily recognised his death – the extinguishing of a burgeoning acting talent – rather than his role in that particular movie. While that performance wasn’t necessarily the best that year, it did excel in one particular area: Ledger took a character so closely associated with an existing performance from a notable actor (ie Jack Nicholson) and in one classy swoop, he deleted the collective memory of that performance and replaced it with his own take.
It’s a feat few actors achieve, let alone bands – but the analogy illustrates for me exactly what The Concretes have done with WYWH, their fourth album proper. Not only does WYWH eclipse everything they’ve produced thus far, it significantly marks the erasure of any lingering presence of the band they used to be. Gone is the sugary melodic of ‘On the Radio’, which now pales in comparison to WYWH’s lush soundscapes, sex-disco beat and wonderful husk of a voice that singer Lisa Milberg appears to have found within herself.
WYWH represents an autumnal maturing: out with innocence, in with experience.
I had to go back and reacquaint myself with Hey Trouble – the post-Victoria Bergsman record – after my first few listens of WYWH. If anything, the new record puts its predecessor into perspective. Losing their original singer meant Hey Trouble was the sound of a band dealing with a reshuffling, refocusing their efforts and finding their sound. WYWH is the actual culmination of those efforts.
It’s as if, post-Bergsman, they didn’t quite know where they were or what they had to offer and now they’ve found it. Just listen to ‘A Whales Heart’ from the last record alongside WYWH’s standout ‘Crack in the Paint’. The difference is both obvious and impressive.
‘All Day’ and ‘My Ways’ are the nearest the record gets to the sweeter pop sound espoused on previous releases but they’re very grown-up pop songs; the latter is tinged with an almost Depeche Mode-like organ riposte (shades of ‘Policy of Truth’ from the Violator album in fact). A Modean darkness permeates much of the album too. ‘Crack in the Paint’ mixes a cranking organ line with a tuneful Nico-like growl while ‘I Wish We’d Never Met’ manages the feat of delivering a song that sounds musically just how deep regret actually feels.
The album’s bar is set by ‘Good Evening’ and ‘Crack in the Paint ‘. The two tracks show a very real progression for the band as songwriters and musicians but, more significantly, solidify The Concretes as a qualitative proposition with (no doubt) more exciting and wonderful music ahead of them.
This is organic disco at heart – but a wholly Swedish take on that particular sound. The sum of its influences functions at the level of both tribute and fresh invention. Yet for such a lush album, the arrangement of guitar, organ, drums, strings and voice is incredibly simple. Ultimately, the star of the record is Milberg’s vocal and the way it’s both served and complimented by the music surrounding it. Somewhere between a whisper and a growl, her voice has grown confident, controlled and just very lovely – all erotic undertones and 2AM taxis home in the rain.