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"They came flying from far away, now I'm under their spell"

Class C

Main Category: Dance Pop
Also applicable: Pop Rock, Lush Pop
Starting Period: The Interim Years
Also active in: The Punk/New Wave Years, The Divided Eighties





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People with "highly-polished musical taste", and most of the hard-rocking crowds in particular, would certainly like to punch me in the nose for putting ABBA on the same list with all 'em Beatles, Stones, Led Zeppelin, etc. I know, I know: commercial, slick, pretty 'chocolate egg' music for sissies and elderly housewives who like their musicians "clean" rather than "musical". We've heard it all before; if you want any more details, go to the Rolling Stone site where people really specialize on pouring loads of dirt on artists in the most excruciating way (but hey, isn't it the same Rolling Stone that spends fortunes on popularizing teen idols like 'N Sync, who don't even have a quadrillionth part of ABBA's talents?).

Anyway, I'd like to put in my two cents on the band. One point that always escapes the "foamers" is that, like it or not, time seems to be on the Swedish side. The fact that ABBA had such a huge international success in the mid- and late-seventies (a little less in America than in the rest of the world, mostly because of the Yank nationalism, of course) may not mean anything - huge teeny bands of the time, like the Bay City Rollers, and even some of the more gritty rockin' ensembles of the day, like Slade and Sweet, have either been completely forgotten or are on the way out. What does mean a lot is that quite unlike all these bands that were big at one time and are eating seaweed at the present, ABBA are still highly revered; essentially, their music simply stands the test of time. It was quite a shock, indeed, when after more than a decade's oblivion, the Gold Greatest Hits compilation suddenly made it onto the upper charts positions in many countries around the world, and I suppose that was the crucial moment when it became clear that they simply refuse to go away out of the musical legacy. Nowadays, you can check out the web for a huge lot of ABBA-related sites, links, whatever, and you will see that these fellows are not likely to be forgotten in just a few years. While I don't usually rely on album sales statistics as a serious argument in favour of an artist's validity (nothing could be more light-minded), continuous album sales are quite a different thing altogether - I mean, if somebody goes out and buys an ABBA album instead of the Spice Girls or instead of Britney Spears, this should definitely say something to even the most sceptical listener.

Second, and even more important. Of course, ABBA was a pop group. Not even a teeny-weeny bit of rocking there (apart from a few tunes like "Rock Me" that do come close, but there's so little of them that this exception obviously just confirms the rule). But unlike the thousands of pop groups that followed (and preceded) them, they had one thing that most of the other groups could only dream about. Well, at least two of them - the B-boys: Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus. They had GENIUS. If you just get over yourself and forget for a moment the slicky sweetness of such tunes like "I've Been Waiting For You", "Take A Chance On Me", "When I Kissed The Teacher" and lots and lots of others, you will see that most of them have a great melody, well-crafted lyrics, professional arrangements and a terrific sound. This is what makes the difference between ABBA and, say, Ace Of Base. (Well. Ace Of Base do have a few good melodies, too. But how many? Two? Three? Yeah, really). Benny and Bjorn were serious composers, with rock, pop, jazz, and classical influences all soaked in in proper measure, and in their prime, they churned out interesting, original, unpredictable chord sequences and vocal melodies that put to shame most of their less imaginative pop contemporaries. ABBA's best songs can't help but stick in your head - stick there exactly because they are all based on actual "melody meat'n'potatoes", and not, contrary to what so many biased ABBA haters assert, on hype, slickness, and corny arrangements. Plus, how can one dislike the vocals? Passionate, raw, and so expressive that I even forget the band for their lyrics: banal, yes, but rarely awful (except for abysmal cases like 'Does Your Mother Know', of course), and anyway, they're Swedes, together with their manager Stieg Andersson who wrote most of the lyrics, so they can be forgiven. (There is a funny scene in ABBA: The Movie, where they ask their Australian bodyguard to explain the meaning of the word 'kinky'...). Aw shucks, whoever listens to ABBA for the lyrics anyway?

I am a little biased towards the group, of course - I guess that a part of my love for these Swedish dudes and dudettes results from my over-exposure to their music when I was about five/six years old (the Soviet Union did import a bit of their music as an "innocent contraceptive" to real rock'n'roll, together with some disco bands of the late Seventies, now mostly forgotten, like Boney M). But later on, as I grew, progressed, got involved in the Beatles/Stones business, etc., I forgot all about them. Then, about fifteen years later I discovered an old tape with two of their best albums in a dusty drawer and I thought: "Let's make an experiment - put it on and see if I will vomit or not." I didn't. In fact, I not only didn't, but felt an urgent desire to put 'em on back again - and then I went out and started hunting for those albums by the band that I hadn't yet heard, not even in my childhood. Nostalgic kick? Maybe, but rather a true sign that this music is really timeless. Pure, slick, commercial pop, but it's high quality pop.

So what do we know about the lineup? Benny Andersson (keyboards) and Bjorn Ulvaeus (guitar) were the exclusive songwriters and occasional singers, while Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Agnetha Faltskog had the pleasure to sing it all. The band was formed somewhere around 1973 (with a long prehistory that you can find all about on any halfway decent ABBA site) and disbanded somewhere around 1982. Oh, almost forgot: all of them are Swedish. I mean, they come from Sweden. I mean, they are probably the only super-popular pop group that's not Anglo-Saxon. Still - Germanic, nevertheless.

I now have all of their albums, three of which are gems and the others are not but some of them are nevertheless worthy of (at least) reviewing, and two hit packages. I also guess they had a live album, but I'm really not interested - at least not until I see it really really cheap. After all, it is pop, isn't it?



Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 2
Overall rating = 5

The Flop. Par excellence.

Best song: RING RING

Track listing: 1) Ring Ring; 2) Another Town, Another Train; 3) Disillusion; 4) People Need Love; 5) I Saw It In The Mirror; 6) Nina, Pretty Balerina; 7) Love Isn't Easy (But It Sure Is Hard Enough); 8) Me And Bobby And Bobby's Brother; 9) He Is Your Brother; 10) She's My Kind Of Girl; 11) I Am Just A Girl; 12) Rock'N'Roll Band.

Starts off nice and cool, with their biggest local hit, which is the title track, of course. It's an upbeat generic pop song with a nice chorus that later developed into 'Mamma Mia', on a more complex and elaborate level. It's thoroughly enjoyable, anyway, and fully deserved to be a hit which it sadly wasn't. But that's really the only good thing that can be said about this record. Either ABBA were still not quite ready for prime time, or Bjorn and Benny weren't yet really trying to find their own niche in world music, but for the most part, the material selection is fairly primitive and second-rate. Most of the space here is filled up by bland bubble-gum commercial ditties, most of them probably rip-offs of local Swedish bands and suchlike crap. Of course, one could go ahead and say that ABBA never wrote anything but bland bubble-gum commercial ditties; but that would be seriously simplifying the picture. It is indeed quite telling that the record seems highly controversial to me - on one hand, the boys are clearly running all over the place in search of a style; on the other hand, they are so careless about the actual chords and note sequences that most of the rhythms and melodies appear to be fairly pedestrian, monotonous and unexciting. Moreover, at this point they hadn't even developed their vocal image: about half of this stuff is sung by Bjorn, and let me tell you I'm really not a fan of his singing talent (in fact, I must confess I don't like him at all - both visually and aurally. Benny's a much nicer type, even if there's no denying Bjorn's talents).

On several occasions, the band is still trying to demonstrate its rock'n'roll capabilities: sometimes it does moderately succeed, like on the upbeat, bouncy 'He Is Your Brother' (one of the earlier singles), which is definitely the second best song on the album and the only one I could include in a hit package besides 'Ring Ring'. It is also quite typical of ABBA's future approach to songwriting: complex, multi-part melodies with unexpected, yet smooth and brilliant twists and hooks that dig deep into your mind. But this 'rock approach' also results in 'Rock'n'Roll Band', a glammy, anthemic piece of simplistic trash that couldn't have seriously benefited even with the addition of a Slade-type guitar solo.

As for their pop compositions, much of them are just way too derivative. 'She's My Kind Of Girl', for instance, is a one hundred percent Hollies rip-off with a melody that never holds a candle to that band anyway; simplistic, repetitive piano shuffle with "fake imitation" stamped all over it. No, I don't blame them for ripping off the Hollies - after all, they were only doing whatever self-taught young ambitious hipster bands all over Europe were doing at the time, but a rip-off is a rip-off and only becomes interesting when the "borrower" stamps on his own identity. And both the sing-along number 'People Need Love' and the 'happy life anthem' 'Me And Bobby And Bobby's Brother' borrow the essential elements of music-hall tunes without adding in any kind of identity: "easy listening" indeed. Maybe these songs are actually not as offensive as I try to show them to be, but you gotta understand, there's just no need whatsoever for them to exist, and any entertaining value they might have doesn't really work outside of Sweden territory.

Other tracks are showing signs of "something there", but are only superficially elaborated, like the cute little dittie 'Love Isn't Easy (But It Sure Is Hard Enough)', which I'd aptly retitle as 'Writing A Song Isn't Easy (But It Sure Is Hard Enough Unless You Loop The Refrain For A Thousand Times)'; a few harmony lines from there would also reappear later in far more interesting contexts. Same goes for the painfully lame 'Nina Pretty Balerina'; in this case, the song is spoiled by such factors as an obnoxious cabret-style refrain - made on intention, of course, but never even amounting to a tongue-in-cheek level because of atrocious lyrics, perfectly illustrated by the very title of the song. I mean, this is one of the rare cases of the lyrics being so disgusting that they actually spoil the song - unsurprisingly, about a half of these cases are indeed to be found on Ring Ring.

There are probably other songs on here, I just forgot all about them - not too different from the rest of this well-intended, but nevertheless garbage. You know, things like this really make one wonder: how the hell do people discover their talent and does it grow inside you or what? Do you have to 'practice' songwriting just as well as you have to 'practice' guitar playing and all that? Or is it a completely different matter? Me dunno. Never ever tried writing songs and wouldn't want to. I'm simply afraid of the possible results. What fun would it be if you write a bunch of songs and release them on an album like Ring Ring? Then again, it was the band's debut, after all, and maybe according to Sweden standards, this was as far as it usually went in that country. All the more respectable is the fact that the guys and girls managed to break out of the vicious circle after all - and in that respect, Ring Ring, freed from its 'entertainment' obligations, can also be viewed with interest as a curious transitional effort from "Local Hip Stars" (or 'Hep Stars' - which was the name of Bjorn's or Benny's original band, don't remember exactly) to "International Megawonders". And after all, 'Ring Ring' and 'He Is Your Brother' are two good songs deserving of attention.

Oh, by the way, American audiences worry not: as far as I know, this is the only original LP of the band that hasn't been released in the States at all. Even after 'Dancing Queen' shot to #1. I'd bet you anything nobody is going to hunt for an imported copy.



Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 3
Overall rating = 6

Your average generic pop record by unexperienced pop guys. Some nasty stuff, some just not very good.

Best song: WATERLOO

Track listing: 1) Waterloo; 2) Sitting In The Palmtree; 3) King Kong Song; 4) Hasta Manana; 5) My Mama Said; 6) Dance (While The Music Still Goes On); 7) Honey, Honey; 8) What About Livingstone; 9) Watch Out; 10) Gonna Sing You My Lovesong; 11) Suzy-Hang-Arround.

The band's second try is already pretty solid as an average bop-pop record, but still not much of an improvement over Ring Ring. You can feel that they are getting better in many ways - most of the songs have that classic 'smooth' ABBA sound that you've been used to since you first heard their big hits, but it's all kinda superficial and... eh... well. You can't help wondering how on earth could they follow it up with such a kicking record as ABBA, when they finally effectuated the big breakthrough from pretty-sounding form to amazingly well-written substance. Too much of the stuff here is plain lightweight - in the bad sense of the word. Too much sugar; too much dippy country grotesque; and too many lame imitations of the contemporary 'rock' sound

Again, they mostly get by with the help of the title track. How good is the title track? No less than a true ABBA classic, of course. An upbeat, energetic tune with ABBA's trademark 'wall-of-sound' approach: huge, booming piano chords, fat strong bass, a brass onslaught, and loud, lush vocalization from the girls. Nobody should care about the cliched Napoleonesque metaphors of the lyrics; what matters are the pure melodic hooks. While 'Waterloo' will probably never be among my favourite ABBA tracks (it doesn't have the sonic depth of their classic period), it still deserved to be the time-defining opus to have pulled ABBA onto the dire path of international stardom - it's a well-known fact that the commercial, and, well, artistic breakthrough of the band is usually defined as the moment of their success with 'Waterloo' in the 1974 Eurovision contest.

However, that's about the best thing that can be noted about the record. Most of the rest sounds like it was either written in order to surround the title track with enough songs for an LP, quickly rushed out for the now ABBA-hungry public, or else they were just painfully continuing their search for a unique style that never seemed to arrive. Or both. Probably both. On second thought... certainly both.

Not that these songs do not point to the future, of course. Thus, the stupid, but catchy 'Dance (While The Music Still Goes On)' is the great-greatgrandmother to 'Dancing Queen': slower, sappier, more feeble and generic, but with a similar looping melody and pompous, 'universalist' feel. The ballads are in some way an improvement over Ring Ring - after the aptly-titled 'Disillusion' on the former, the band had wisely understood that without hooks they would never get along well, and there is at least a catchy chorus or something like that in every song. But while concentrating their efforts on one side of the story, they manage to neglect the other one - emotional 'authenticity', and the result is an overabundance of vocal cliches and saccharine: 'Gonna Sing You My Lovesong' doesn't have a strong enough melody not to make me vomit on the spot with its oversexualized voices, and 'Hasta Manana' is simply way way too ordinary to feature such a stupid, overemotive vocal melody. Of course, I admit that you have to go through all this bullshit if you wanna arrive at something like 'I've Been Waiting For You' or 'One Man One Woman'; but in standard cases, songs like this are usually relegated over to archive releases destined for diehard fans who are eager to soak in everything their idols had written from age six and upwards. Of course, you never know with these crazy Swedes...

Note, however, that I have just mentioned the best of the songs on the album. The rest is at times even more embarrassing than on Ring Ring: tons more ambitions and claims at a "serious sound", but in reality just excessive cliches and lapses of taste. 'Honey Honey', for instance, according to the band themselves, was an intentional try to write something "oversexy", and the result is what I'd remorselessly dub "bordello pub"; luckily, they were fortunate enough to never reproduce the likes of this garbage again. 'Sitting On The Palmtree' is something you might be lucky to encounter in a bad love comedy. And if you think these two tracks are sweety sugary pop to the extreme, then how about their rock excourses? 'Watch Out' just blows in a unique way - this is their take on Deep Purple or what? ABBA doing heavy metal is even more ridiculous than AC/DC doing reggae. And 'King Kong Song' sounds like something that could have been written by some angry, yet talentless Nineties' Britpop band in their early teenage days - which is not a happy thing, either. I'm not even trying to mention the lyrics - come to think of it, while ABBA's lyrics were never a great product, Waterloo is their lowest point in that department. 'This is the King Kong song, won't you sing along, listen to the music and it couldn't go wrong'. And the absolute nadir: 'And what a dreadful mighty killer/A big black WIDE gorilla'. Are you going to tell me that it was really Stieg Andersson who wrote those lyrics? The only explanation I can find is that at this point they were still not too hot on capturing the international market and never really cared about what they were singing.

I won't even go through with the other tracks - they're not any better than this; some more bland fillerish ballads that never go anywhere. Ultimately, what redeems this album is just the title track, and 'Dance' and 'Hasta Manana' are at least listenable. Don't waste your time on this record, unless you're an ABBA historian, and be grateful to me for saving your money.



Year Of Release: 1975
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

The big break-through. Incredible, but they managed it.

Best song: INTERMEZZO NO. 1

Track listing: 1) Mamma Mia; 2) Hey, Hey Helen; 3) Tropical Loveland; 4) SOS; 5) Man In The Middle; 6) Bang-A-Boomerang; 7) I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do; 8) Rock Me; 9) Intermezzo No.1; 10) I've Been Waiting For You; 11) So Long.

At last, after two evident flops (well, Waterloo wasn't exactly a flop commercially - it did fare moderately well in Europe; but it certainly was one artistically), ABBA have finally dumped out a truly great record. Filled to the brim with extremely catchy pop ditties and sometimes even more than that. Like I already mentioned in the previous review, the mighty leap they took on here is astonishing. From all the naive imitations, tasteless sappy ballads and eccentric pseudo heavy metal excourses of yore, ABBA have matured into a full-fledged pop band, inserting at least a dozen different hooks into each song and making every tune stand out on its own. These songs could have been fairly good even without any vocals - their instrumental melodies are extremely well-written, catchy and, well, melodic, if you'll scuse my tautology. But, of course, the vocal workouts by the girls add the numbers immensely: both Agnetha and Anni-Frid have finally found their voices, with just a slight tinge of sexuality, enough power and conviction, and they no longer sound like they have just come out of a bordello.

It all starts with "Mamma Mia", propelled by its excellent 'jumpy' keyboard line. From the very start, the song's complexity is amazing: of course, it ain't no prog rock, but for a routine pop song it's a near-masterpiece, going through several different sections, all of them highly memorable and very smoothly flowing together, and culminating in the brilliant refrain. Tasty little looping guitar riffs, excellent organ swirls, the boppy little synth pattern, wow... everything you need for an epochal pop song. Released as a single, it was highly successful, and deservedly so! Just let yourself go, and you'll be finding yourself tapping your foot to the rhythm and singing "Mamma mia, here I go again" in no time!

The ballads are lovely here, and I'm not just meaning the classic hit stuff: "Tropical Loveland", for instance, is not a very well-known song, but it is nevertheless extremely pretty (think 'Sitting In The Palmtree' with a far less childish atmosphere, real 'tropical' mood, pleasant female vocals instead of Bjorn's annoying whine, and about twice as many hooks), and "I've Been Waiting For You" is one of the best love songs they ever did, period.

But there's more to this album than just the ballads. The pop rockers "Bang-A-Boomerang", "I Do I Do..." (more brilliant looping melodics never surpassed since) and "Hey Hey Helen" are all quite memorable. 'Hey Hey Helen', come to think of it, is what all those 'heavy metal tunes' off Waterloo would have sounded like if only the guys gave themselves a few more time and a few more punches in the back of the head - the heavy guitar riffs on that one don't bother me in the least, as they never try to sound dreary or 'mock-ominous': they just emphasize the power of the tune, which is, in my opinion, a highly underrated ABBA classic, with all those riffs, a catchy, rhythmic synth solo, a groovy drum pattern, and perfectly tolerable lyrics about a family breakup (which is, unbelievably, anti-feminist in its essence!). "Rock Me" is one of the few songs by the band that comes extremely close to being a pure rocker (it is even sung by Bjorn - amazingly, to good effect). Many people detest it together with any other efforts by the band to 'rock out', but I must say that after such abysmal horrors as 'Watch Out' and 'King Kong Song' I am able to tolerate it far better. After all, there's no mock-metallic guitar on here: it's just a steady, bouncy piano rocker. Perhaps the verses, with Bjorn roaring out '...with you baby every single night... I can teach you how to rock all right...' might be disgusting at times, but I think the song easily redeems itself with the chorus. And "So Long", which also has a particularly 'heavy' feel to it, especially in the furious coda, also demonstrates that the band has finally "tamed" the heavy guitar sound so that it can serve their purposes of 'empowering' the song without seeming cliched and 'trendy'.

The major hit of the record, besides "Mamma mia", was "S.O.S", which is not one of my favourite songs, but still - I do enjoy it a lot. Benny is a great keyboard player, and this number cooks just as well as the other ten. However, Benny's piece de resistance on this album is certainly "Intermezzo No. 1" - an energetic, fast, keyboard-driven instrumental which manages to combine pop, rock and classical music in a certainly unique way, never to be repeated again. The man had finally satisfied his "classical" ambitions. Kudos to the man. It was a pretty effective concert number, too, with Benny giving it his all; you gotta see that part in Abba - The Movie where he's going at it like mad. Go, Benny, go!

Any weak spots? Well... "Man In The Middle", probably: it is a rather clumsy tune, again sung by Bjorn, about social inequality. The lyrics are very dumb, almost as if the song were an outtake from Waterloo, and the tune really does not fit in well with the rest of the record. Still, not too ugly - I've heard worse songs from the band ('King Kong Song', for instance!). Also, the diversity of styles is not all that overwhelming: some of the lighter numbers do resemble each other, which makes this record not as varied as some of the following.

But, in general, 'tis strong. Very strong. Enjoy it!



Year Of Release: 1976
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

Contains perhaps the biggest bunch of hits, but the less-known material is very palatable as well.


Track listing: 1) When I Kissed The Teacher; 2) Dancing Queen; 3) My Love, My Life; 4) Dum Dum Diddle; 5) Knowing Me, Knowing You; 6) Money, Money, Money; 7) That's Me; 8) Why Did It Have To Be Me; 9) Tiger; 10) Arrival.

"And the hits keep coming", as they say! Everybody knows the smash hits "Dancing Queen" and "Money Money Money", and they're here all right. Overplayed a little, maybe, but that's no good reason to dislike 'em. "Dancing Queen" was even performed live at the king of Sweden's wedding. Imagine that (although I still do not understand how does this fit in with the lyrics. "Dig in the dancing queen?" Hmmm...). Can anybody in his or her right mind deny the melodies? The thrill? The relative complexity? After all, 'Money' goes through far more different sections than such a straightforward dance number is really supposed to. In fact, you can hardly dance to it due to all the endless stop-and-starts. And what's with the proto-techno rhythm of the main section?

Likewise, 'Dancing Queen' was the song that finally made the band big in the States - for a very short time, granted, but still an unprecedented event, considering America's usual sceptical attitude towards European dance music. I mean, if it was hard for a British act to crash through in the States, imagine how hard it should have been for a Swedish act.

The interesting fact is that, although the smash hits ("Knowing Me Knowing You" is here too - not as well-known, maybe, but still a milestone) do overshadow the album, most of the rest is not weaker than the previous one. The arrangements are getting incredibly complex, close to symphonic, and the vocals are terrific - never been better (yet!) Apparently, there ain't a single bad or utterly tasteless composition on the whole album. Some may be judged as too cliched lyrically (a problem I always try to overlook), some a bit too childish, some - as usual - try a bit too hard to 'rock', but bad they certainly aren't. Bjorn and Benny were starting to reach their absolute creative pinnacle, and basically every line is an independent hook in itself.

"When I Kissed The Teacher" is probably the closest to an ABBA "raunchy" song (I mean, from their own point of view): gentle, naive, funny and fast. Oh, it certainly isn't 'raunchy' because it's gentle, naive, funny and fast, but rather because of the subject matter - and it caused Sting to write his famous ABBA-protesting battle cry, 'Don't Stand So Close To Me'. Nah, just kiddin'. The important thing is - the harmonies on that ABBA song kick everything else they did previously straight in the guts. In the meantime, the mighty chorus of 'Tiger' more than makes up for the song's lyrical dumbness, and the driving guitar/synth riff is absolutely unforgettable. I was especially pleased that this song was introduced as the first 'live' number in Abba: The Movie, not the better-known standards.

"Why Did It Have To Be Me", featuring the only Bjorn lead vocals here, is a fine concoct of blues, jazz and pop, locked in a very tight perfor... uhhh... recording. It's the one that can said to be the "rock" number, featuring some buzzy, ringing electric guitars not often heard in a standard pop number, but if you axe me, it's mainly used pro forma. It doesn't offend, though, just a little diddy-de-diddy-de-diddy buzzing in your ears. Relaxative. Catchy, too. And don't you go forgetting the beautiful ballad "My Love My Life", a fine sequel to "I've Been Waiting For You". Sappy and sentimental? Dang it, what's so funny about being sappy and sentimental when you can pull it off with such sincerity and such twisted, yet memorable vocal melodies?

The weaker points here, according to my own personal humble subjective crooked opinion, are "Dum Dum Diddle" and "That's Me". The former overdoes the 'childish' element a bit, and would perhaps be a fine highlight on Waterloo, not on here. "That's Me" is also weaker in the melodical sense, but that doesn't mean it's bad: when judging an album like Arrival, one goes about discussing the number and the quality of hooks, and 'That's Me' simply loses in comparison to the better numbers. Still, the descending 'arpeggiated' synth lines in it are a real treat.

However, the real letdown is the title track - an instrumental dominated by lots of synthesizers which serve as a background for some kind of "heartfelt" chanting sounding as a hymn to an unknown deity. The album cover, where all four members dressed in white stand in front of a helicopter in the rising (setting?) sun, contributes to this image as well. Apparently, it's supposed to be the "serious" number on the record, just like 'Intermezzo No. 9' was the "serious" number on ABBA. But it's a very static and monotonous piece, consisting mainly of just one vocal/instrumental line repeated over and over again, and ABBA were never really the masters of atmospherics - at least, not the kind of atmospherics you'd expect from an instrumental 'sonic experiment'. I'd rather have Benny put in some more of his pseudo-classical piano improvs or something.

Still, the title track is not too long and at least it comes on at the proper place - right there at the end. Heh. Because of it, and because the best, most complex and least cheezy stuff was yet to come, Arrival only gets a nine from me. But it's a high nine for ABBA, and the album as a whole is one of their most glorious moments that finally convinced the world the band was here to stay.



Year Of Release: 1977
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13

If there ever was a reason for Europop to exist, this is it. One of the most essential pop releases of the Seventies.

Best song: EAGLE

Track listing: 1) Eagle; 2) Take A Chance On Me; 3) One Man, One Woman; 4) The Name Of The Game; 5) Move On; 6) Hole In Your Soul; 7) Thank You For The Music; 8) I Wonder (Departure); 9) I'm A Marionette.

Well, it's not exactly up to Beatles standards, of course, but the title is very appropriate nevertheless - this is The Album indeed, and a truly great one. This is actually the high pinnacle of the group's career; after The Album, there were still further successes and misses, but the overall direction was downhill - just because it would be impossible for the band to top this effort. What's so unusual about it, then? Well, we could even dismiss the fact that Benny and Bjorn's melodies have never been catchier, the arrangements have never been richer, and the girls' harmonies have never been better constructed. The important fact is, the general atmosphere of the album carries it far beyond your average pop record; critics at the time were even starting to suggest that ABBA had finally matured into a 'serious' band and would soon overgrow their innocent Europop stage. Unfortunately, that never truly happened, but The Album comes as close to a serious artistic statement as never again in the entire career of the band, and I would eagerly recommend it as the first ABBA buy for those generally afraid of the band's 'sappiness' or utterly commercial stance. Who knows? It might even convert you!

Okay, I'm not saying it's a radical change of style, of course. There are still some cute, silly pop ditties here, scattered all over the place, but even the cute pop ditties are all first-class, with some new neat tricks tried out and even more complex and catchy melodies than before. The multi-part "Take A Chance On Me" stylistically continues the line of "Mamma Mia", but with a far more elaborate level of arrangement, singing and playing, and it also features a great 'spoken riff' you probably all know - 'take a chance-take a chance-take a-take a-chance-chance...'. No wonder it was a huge hit, and a well-deserved one. On a slower and more 'introspective' note, "One Man One Woman" is a gorgeous ballad of the type that only ABBA could pull off, with excellent harmonies and a couple memorable guitar/synth riffs to carry the song forward. Those who can recognize a great slow ballad from a boring slow ballad will not be disappointed - the subtle vocal build-up alone is enough to guarantee satisfaction.

Moving away from the certified Europop style, the band also digs deeper into 'rock' territory, with the results not always quite up to par, but usually more acceptable than most of their previous attempts at 'hardening' the music. 'Hole In Your Soul' might be the corniest song on the record (the 'there's gotta be rock'n'roll to fill the hole in your soul' refrain is pronounced in a deliberately cheesy sort of way), but the melody and tricksy arrangement can't be denied. The closing "I'm A Marionette", then, features some ferocious solo playing by Lasse Wellander, and is actually the most unconventional ending for an ABBA album: before that, they used to go out with a bang of energy and optimism, or just on a playful note. 'I'm A Marionette', however, being the third song from ABBA's 'mini-musical' about the calamities of show-business (a beautiful and talented provincial girl makes the big time only to find out that she's become a marionette in the hands of the show-biz bosses, you know the drift), ends the record on a dreary and almost frightening note - another move from the band that desperately wanted to demonstrate their difference. The song matter might be cliched, of course, but who cares when the music's so good?

Another absolute classic on here is the half-pop, half-rock "The Name Of The Game" featuring a good riff, great backing vocals and being really memorable. It's also multi-part - by now the band's songwriters were really making bets on how many different, yet equally catchy parts they could incorporate inside one song - and arguably one of their most 'profound' compositions on love topics.

However, it is not the rock songs or the pop ditties that are in the essence here, but rather the two majestic anthem songs which may well be the best ABBA songs of all time. "Thank You For The Music", despite its constant overplay and slightly inane lyrics, is still maybe the best ode to this type of art I've ever heard. But forget about 'Thank You For The Music', concentrate on "Eagle" - the one song in the ABBA catalog that I simply worship. Briefly speaking, never have I heard a song about birds and flying whose arrangement would so perfectly convey the feeling of soaring high up in the sky, dizzy heights and stately majesty. I am still wondering at how they found that exact type of echo, invented that exact main synthesizer riff that underpins the song, made their guitarist play the exact brilliantly economic solo that's needed for this song, and made the girls sound exactly appropriate and inobtrusive at the same time. But that's not all: special attention must be paid to all the multiple sonic overlays in the song, some of them almost Eno-ish: little 'bubbly' outburst of synthesizer and guitar from time to time, musical 'raindrops' pouring from the sky or birdies whistling through the clouds. And to top it all, towards the end of the song all the singing just dies away and we are given a little possibility to simply concentrate on the atmosphere, as the main synth riff gets repeated several times with all the sound effects floating by... This is classic, and a song that not only fully deserves its near-six minutes running time, but is actually too short for me.

In all, I wouldn't define even a single song on this album as 'filler'. Perhaps stuff like 'I Wonder (Departure)', which is a bit too Broadwayish (natural, since it also formed part of the mini-musical) and slow, but even that one is not without a degree of memorability. Not a single major gaffe or lack of taste on here, it's as close as ABBA ever came to perfection. After that they could have just dissolved quietly and not have dragged on for another bleeding five years. Oh well, never mind. They did 'Does Your Mother Know' after that, didn't they?



Year Of Release: 1979
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9

If you cut through the disco sound, you might even enjoy it...


Track listing: 1) As Good As New; 2) Voulez-Vous; 3) I Have A Dream; 4) Angel Eyes; 5) The King Has Lost His Crown; 6) Does Your Mother Know; 7) If Wasn't For The Nights; 8) Lovers (Live A Little Longer); 9) Kisses Of Fire; 10) Chiquitita.

Aah, now here's where they really hit disco. See, they had no album at all in 1978, and The Album was really recorded in 1976, so, if I get it right, there was no Donna Summer back then. Of course, The Album contained glimpses of disco, particularly on 'Take A Chance On Me' and a couple others, but it was a modest, 'unpretentious' kind of disco carefully masked as innocent dance pop. By this time, though, Donna Summer sure as hell was, not to mention Saturday Night Fever, and this is where the commercial, money-grubbin' side of the band stood up in all of its ugliness. More than half of the songs on the album are set to a stupid disco beat whose only function is to level the performances down to the average pop schlock standard of the late Seventies. A pity, that. This, in fact, is the beginning of a total end because from now on ABBA relinquished their status of ground-breaking innovators, preferring to follow in some other guy's (or girl's) footsteps, and, well, guess what happened. Well, actually, certain fans assure us that ABBA have in fact been highly creative with disco - pushing the genre's boundaries forward and tying the monotonous beats to a solid melodic base like no one could. I fully agree with that statement, and that's what actually makes me able to digest Voulez-Vous, but still, seeing the band detach itself from the firm ground of the cute Europop style they pioneered five years ago makes me somewhat sad, especially when I think how many mortal enemies the band had earned themselves with the release of this album - especially in retrospect, because in 1979 disco was still a fresh and trendy genre and nobody really protested against such an application of Benny and Bjorn's talents.

Oh well, at least these guys were so talented at writing catchy songs and the girls so talented at singing them that this is not such a weak effort as you'd expect. First of all, let's be honest and admit that the album does have some non-disco efforts. The beautiful ballad 'Chiquitita', for instance. It was yet another megahit for the band and rightly so: the song features a lovely build-up and bounces along pretty fine, in the proud ABBA tradition. The gospel anthem 'I Have A Dream', on the other hand, is rather generic nonsense, and quite pompous at that: I know a lot of people will love it, but I don't give a damn for artificial gospel singing. Still, it's listenable and catchy - never mind my tastes, it's at least better than Queen's crowd-pleasing anthems like that wretched 'Let's Cling Together' ditty.

Second, the disco numbers are clever. Really clever. Not generic by any means, I mean. Yes, the disco beats spoil the fun and make the record sound dated - in the sense that you can immediately guess the epoch, of course - but, after all, isn't the same thing happening in the Nineties with techno beats? When artists like David Bowie or the Moody Blues tie their songs to techno rhythms, we try to redeem them saying "okay, they're just following the trend, just listen to the melody!" Why should we condemn ABBA for having followed the trend when even far less commercial artists were doing likewise? Me, I just close my eyes on the beats (although they sure help to tap your feet correctly) and let myself be entertained by the cool melodies. The title track is one of the best on here; surprisingly dark for an ABBA song (a pre-shadowing of the general atmosphere on their two later albums), building on a memorable synthesizer riff and, well, it's fun, regardless of whatever else you might say about it. Moody and disturbing, it's quite a classic in its own rights.

'As Good As New' looks quite similar, but is in fact different: its highlight is the mighty singing in the verses (the chorus is, unfortunately, quite lightweight) that puts Donna Summer to shame. Finally, Bjorn's vocal spot on here, the blistering pseudo-rocker 'Does Your Mother Know', is just so energetic that you can't help admiring the band's production skills: the way the base, then the drums, then the guitars and finally the vocals rush in is simply invigorating. The only thing that really spoils the number are absolutely horrid lyrics about how Bjorn won't let a teenager sleep with him. Obviously written to keep up the band's 'clean' image, and it's pure unlistenable schlock (with lines like 'I can see what you want, but you seem to be young to be searching for that kinda fun').

Brrr! Okay, so these lines mar the song and the album. There's also quite a bit of generic filler that shows far less concern for melody than usual, with three songs in a row built on simplistic rhythms, containing no hooks and simply being way too formulaic for ABBA: 'If It Wasn't For The Nights', 'Lovers Live A Little Longer', and 'Kisses Of Fire' could have been written by just about any disco-abusing band at the time, Boney M included. And 'The King Has Lost His Crown' is simply way too pompous and ambitious to be endured. But nevertheless, concentrate on the better material, don't forget to throw in one more great ballad ('Angeleyes', with an unimpressive 'disco-classical' introduction, but full of superb, one hundred percent ABBAesque, vocal harmonies otherwise), and you see? It's not at all bad! Well, it's not that bad! Disco rhythms can be all right, once you've learned to tame them. See the Stones' 'Hot Stuff' for reference. I'd easily give the album an overall rating of eight, maybe even a weak nine; of course, this is a serious dropdown after the near-immaculate The Album, with just two or three real classics, but it's not hopeless as certain disco haters would eagerly tell you.



Year Of Release: 1980
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Hmm. Sounds good. Less disco, more noise. Less noise, more great pop tunes. But not enough.


Track listing: 1) Super Trouper; 2) The Winner Takes It All; 3) On And On And On; 4) Andante Andante; 5) Me And I; 6) Happy New Year; 7) Our Last Summer; 8) The Piper; 9) Lay All Your Love On Me; 10) The Way Old Friends Do; 11) Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!; [BONUS TRACKS:] 12) Elaine; 13) Put On Your White Sombrero.

Many fans prefer this as the best effort by the group, and I can see why: it's really diverse, slightly experimental, partly reverting to the good old days, partly pushing us forward to the future. It is indeed extremely consistent and a big move forward from the reckless disco blah blah of Voulez-Vous, but it'll hardly ever become my favourite ABBA record because sometimes the slickness on here gets really stiffening, and a couple filler tunes and a couple major lapses of taste don't help matters either. That said, these are all minor complaints; objectively speaking, the songs here are written at the usual level of brilliancy and demonstrate that the band managed to finally overcome the 'new technologies' and completely tame late Seventies/early Eighties music genres and production values.

A large bunch of European hits is on the record (as opposed to the relative hit poorness of the previous one), and as is usual, the more hits there are on an ABBA record, the better it is, as ABBA aren't Yes, for God's sake. Prime stuff begins with the title track - featuring one of their most memorable and charming melodies, in fact, even though the lyrics are shitty, but I guess I needn't mention that. Shitty or not, I dare you to resist singing 'su-pa-pah trou-pa-pah' along with the wonderful backing harmonies by the time the chorus comes along. It is, in fact, one of the best examples of ABBA's creative genius: take a simplistic, generic disco tune and try 'twisting' the verses, middle-eights and choruses so that the song would flow along like nothing else in the world. Just try it! I guarantee you won't be able to cope with the task as fine as these guys do.

After the optimistic romantic swirl of the title track, though, you get a cold shower with the gorgeous ballad 'The Winner Takes It All', maybe the most bitter track in the catalog, with unsurpassed soaring vocals by Agnetha (solo performance, mind you). It is a disco ballad, for sure, but I'd take it over a million non-disco ballads that only rely on 'atmosphere' and forget to actually bend those strings or push these keys in a creative manner. Benny Andersson, for one, doesn't forget to make the song catchy by basing it upon a stunning set of piano riffs, so kudos to Benny - these riffs make the perfect accompaniment to Agnetha's performance. Oh, and the song also stands as a major scorn to those who accuse the band of a 'lack of emotionality' (go figure!). Not only is the track emotional, it is also sincere, as it is devoted to the problems of personal friction within the band at the time, what with all their divorces coming up.

The record also has the disco megahit 'Lay All Your Love On Me': it may be generic and banal all right, but God help me I love it. So sue me. It's so dang well written, with a great pause to make a bridge between the two slightly different tempos of verses and choruses (not a frequently met element among disco compositions of the era, is it?). However, I haven't yet confessed all of my crimes: for no special reason I also dig the even more generic disco 'On And On And On'. I think the main melody of this song is freakin' brilliant. Aw man, it really gets me going. Can't help myself. Last time I read the lyrics to the song, I puked. But how often do you read the lyrics to, say, Donna Summer? Can you guarantee that... ah well, never mind. All I know is that 'On And On And On' is, once again, built around a nice and creative synth riff. Nice and creative synth riffs are my cup of tea. And these dudes come up with nice synth riffs all the time! Unlike, say, Kansas, who only come up with a nice synth riff if they dig it out of a superior Genesis tune, and even then they can't know how to play it right, the bastards. I suggest next time they embark on a world tour they throw out that worthless Livgren guy and replace him with Benny Andersson. NOW we're talking!

The non-hit material, while not being so remarkable, is still worthy. 'Our Last Summer', while slightly paling in comparison to the far superior ballads, still has a lot of that 'innocent romance' and non-cheap sentimentality that makes the ABBA sound so endearing. 'Happy New Year' isn't particularly convincing, but it's still a nice song to put on while celebrating the you-know-what. 'The Piper' is a very strange choice indeed (why they chose to put this tale to music baffles me totally), but it's a rare case of ABBA willing to experiment with something beyond ordinary pop. 'Andante Andante' is a pretty waltz piece, not too original, but boy am I glad to meet a piece of waltz among all that disco, great as it might be.

So, by far, the only two songs that don't really cut the mustard here are 'Me And I' (pure filler, albeit inoffensive) and 'The Way Old Friends Do', a stupid and tasteless cash-in on the success of 'I Have A Dream', yup, you got it, another, even more pompous, pseudo-live 'chorale' arrangement. Hate that kind of crap. If it's pompous, gimme Bach or at least gimme ELP. Not ABBA or Queen.

Apart from those, and apart from a general 'morose' feeling surrounding too many of the tracks (which is still nothing compared to the morose atmosphere of Visitors), this is yet another proof of why ABBA really mattered. If this record doesn't convince you, please check your local surgeon - you have a huge stinkin' bias boil somewhere under your shirt. Cut it out!



Year Of Release: 1981
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

Sad, bitter and dark. No fun. No future. No hope. But some good songs, at least.

Best song: ONE OF US

Track listing: 1) The Visitors; 2) Head Over Heels; 3) When All Is Said And Done; 4) Soldiers; 5) I Let The Music Speak; 6) One Of Us; 7) Two For The Price Of One; 8) Slipping Through My Fingers; 9) Like An Angel Passing Through My Room.

The end. They were really tired, angry and washed-up by this time - not to mention divorced from each other and only wanting to part their ways as soon as only possible. Consequently, in terms of hits this record features only one classic: 'One Of Us', a strict sorrowful sequence of solemn separation. It was their last hit single and it deserved that, featuring a melody as good as any old Abba classic. However, unlike a lot of old Abba classics, it is really sincere and almost autobiographical, and this gives the song a special edge that couldn't be reached on earlier records. Think 'The Winner Takes It All', but without the pathos and bombast - they don't even have that force of old any more, or pretend that they don't have it, resorting to far more subtle and delicate means. Every time I listen to the vocal delivery in the song, I think of snub-nosed individuals who claim that "ABBA doesn't have any real emotion"... geez, how far does one really need to go in a repudiation of all kinds of 'mainstream' stuff? When will we learn to strip ourselves of snobism and recognize talent and passion when we see it... oh, well, seeing as I don't really want to become an existentialist, I suppose I'd better calm down.

Anyway, the bad - but predictable - news is that most of the other material doesn't hold a candle to 'One Of Us', ranging from stupid filler to ordinary filler to some very nice, but inessential tunes. They were obviously so exhausted that they even contributed a song reminiscent of Abba's earliest days: the Bjorn-sung 'Two For The Price Of One' is an absolute lyrical nadir (I won't even retell the totally lame subject matter here) with a banal pop melody that could have easily made it onto Ring Ring (maybe it was an outtake?) 'Does Your Mother Know' is a real masterpiece compared to this piece of crap - or maybe it was recorded specially to piss off the fans so that they wouldn't be hunting for more Bjorn lead vocals?

Luckily, there are no more low points like that one, but it's not like the rest of the songs are particularly well-crafted, either. The lack of guitars is very noticeable on the album: the band had all but abandoned the typical "acoustic guitar meets nice piano" approach of old, and prefers to dabble in all kinds of synth-pop and, er, quasi-synth-pop arrangements. This is not necessarily bad, because it does result in the album's second-best track, one of the most bizarre and unpredictable pearls in the entire ABBA catalog: 'The Visitors'. I haven't done much research on it, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that this song might have been the biggest ABBA related musical shock after the arena-rock outburst of 'Eagle'. Dark, mystical and relying a lot on intricately woven sonic textures, it is, in fact, more Peter Gabriel than ABBA - at least, until the discoish chorus lifts the melody out of its ominous synthesizer crescendos. That said, didn't Peter Gabriel rely on dance rhythms as well? Bjorn and Benny were certainly not deaf to whatever was happening around in the musical world at the time, and had ABBA actually not disbanded after this album, who knows, maybe they would live to really earn the 'alternative' tag that was so rashly thrown upon the band by Spin Magazine. (Sic!)

'The Visitors' and 'One Of Us' thus turn out to be classics - the former in an innovatory sense, the latter in a more traditional one. However, both songs are easily available on the Gold Hits and More Gold collections, and don't make the record itself worth owning. More Gold also collects the third best song, the slightly stupid, slightly corny, but immaculately written bouncy ballad 'Head Over Heels', notorious for actually incorporating elements of a tango - and for a vocal melody that lesser bands could simply kill for. Finally, More Gold also has 'When All Is Said And Done' and, if I'm not mistaken, it also has 'Like An Angel Passing Through My Room', two songs that aren't particularly offensive but I'd bet they were written on a bad day anyway. 'When All Is Said And Done' is so monotonous I'd hardly believe it was really written by Bjorn and Benny, two of the best 'complex pop melody' creators of the epoch; and the latter track is just so lullabyish that it seems to revel in its role of album closer, as if saying: 'Good night, boys and girls. We have done our job and we leave you now to rest your weary head. Dream sweet dreams for me...'

And what else? Hmm... Just one more excellent ballad that you'll hardly find on any collection - so it's up to you to decide if you really need Visitors for that one song, 'Slipping Through My Fingers', with wretched and simplistic and sappy verses BUT one of the most gorgeous choruses of all time. Words can't express the beauty of that vocal melody: what's it like, barocco-style? waltz elements? who cares? It's beautiful, cathartic and majestic - if you don't think so, you have a really warped understanding of beauty, so that's that.

In any case, Visitors is a truly enigmatic album. Written in a period of crisis which they couldn't get over, it shows signs of despair and boredom, on one hand, and some really genial masterstrokes, on the other. Well... I suppose it just goes to show the actual songwriting quality of these guys, that even under stress conditions they were still talented enough not to let go of their personal muse. A good, if unexceptional, swan song - and if you find it cheap, pick it up if only for the chorus to 'Slipping Through My Fingers'...



Year Of Release: 1986
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

No great shakes, but enough to convince one that "ABBA Live" is NOT an oxymoron.

Best song: EAGLE

Track listing: 1) Dancing Queen; 2) Take A Chance On Me; 3) I Have A Dream; 4) Does Your Mother Know; 5) Chiquitita; 6) Thank You For The Music; 7) Two For The Price Of One; 8) Fernando; 9) Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight); 10) Super Trouper; 11) Waterloo; 12) Money Money Money; 13) The Name Of The Game/Eagle; 14) On And On And On.

Let's start with some generic by-the-book whining about how the modern times suck. First, let's assume that ABBA were just "teen pop" (which they weren't, but it's never too late to make an assumption anyway). In the Nineties, "teen pop" means the likes of Britney Spears and 'NSync - acts whose stage performance consists of a lot of dancing and some singing into these crappy-looking radio microphones they hang around their chin, and if you care even a little bit, you spend your time not so much wiggling your ass to the happy happy beat but actually trying to guess if the singer is actually singing or if it's just another case of Milli Vanilli. Pathetic to say the least.

In this sense, ABBA Live is a great argument for ABBA's status as a real band with a lot of potential for making live music - not just a 'bullshit studio concoction' (as one of my recent commentators named the Beatles, by the way). but an actual living organism of four and more people that was not only capable of writing a slick, polished hit, but also of making it come alive on the stage. Now they weren't a tremendous live band, this is hardly debatable. Not only weren't they self-sustainable, they couldn't actually provide more than one skillful instrumentalist in their midst: Benny was excellent on the keyboards, of course, and there was hardly much need of a different piano/synth player with him around, but Björn, unfortunately, couldn't recognize a solid guitar solo from a dead duck, and his rhythm playing was hardly more than "competent", as well. So, it goes without saying that unless they wanted their shows look like a classical romance performance (with Benny on the piano and the two girls singing), they had to bring in more people, and the credits here are huge. Extra guitarists, drummers, bassists, backup singers, you name it. Even a regular chidren's choir joins them for 'I Have A Dream' and 'Fernando'. No expense spared indeed.

But, after all, these are technical limitations; and seeing as how the most important "supplementary" players were usually regulars - Lasse Wellander, the band's electric guitar god, is the most important one - this certainly gives an atmosphere of stability to the line-up. Even with the extras, this was still a compact unit, with people who knew each other well and had all the chemistry that was required. And the music does sound live. It sounds HUGE - sometimes way too huge to distinguish between the inidividual instruments and voices - but that's how it was written and recorded, with hugeness in mind, and that's how they wanted it to sound: faithfully reproduced in the live environment.

Normally I dislike this kind of live album - the one where the songs sound so close to the originals you have no reason but financial to presume behind its existence - but in this case, I think there's extra symbolism involved. There's definitely a slight lack of perfection in these performances: a note missed here and there, a clumsy coda in one place, a silly, unnecessary gimmick in another, and that's the way we get to know these are real human performances. Not that I ever had any reasons to disbelieve that in the first place, but there are people who did, and still do, and this is the kind of album that might actually make an ABBA convert of a few good-willed ladies and gentlemen.

I would really prefer a single performance with a coherent track listing to the jumbled mess they offer us here, though; the tracks are taken from the band's Australian tour of 1977, their performance at the Wembley Arena in 1979, and from Dick Cavett's TV show in 1981 - three quite different periods, actually, with the 1977 tracks obviously being the "freshest" and the 1981 tracks slightly more, well, err, "perfunctory", although it takes a few listens to notice the differences. An entire recorded show from the Australian tour would have been really sweet. On the other hand, this here mixing is not wholly unreasonable either - this way, you get a Greatest Hits Live of sorts, which, for ABBA, definitely makes more sense than for somebody like the Rolling Stones, because their greatest hits do make for their most entertaining live performances. In fact, my only gripes with the track listing is the inclusion of 'I Have A Dream' (not only is the song as proverbially boring as before, it's especially unsuitable for a live recording) and 'Two For The Price Of One' (if you're gonna have one really really bad ABBA song on a live album, at least make it something goofy from the early days, like 'King Kong' or 'Nina Pretty Ballerina!' At least they were having fun with these ones).

Elsewhere, it's one supercool hit after another, with the obvious, predictable highlights being 'Dancing Queen', 'Take A Chance On Me' (where Benny and Björn actually start the mumbled 'tkchns tkchns tkchns' rhythm but, unfortunately, cannot sustain it throughout the whole song), 'Thank You For The Music', and 'Waterloo' (beginning with a frantic aural onslaught and ending with a little bit of "anthemic boogie playing" for your pleasure). Minor complaints can be voiced about 'Does Your Mother Know' - Björn's singing on the live version produces an even more stupid effect than in the studio - and 'The Name Of The Game' which, for reasons unknown, has been crammed into a medley with 'Eagle', with a really bad, jarring transition after the girls "loop" the 'and it means a lot... and it means a lot..." refrain in a typically "scratched LP" way. However, 'Eagle' itself is flawless - not as atmospheric as the original, which is only natural because they aren't Pink Floyd, after all, but with a lot of oomph and a long, and fairly decent, Lasse Wellander solo in the coda. Particular thanks for the inclusion of 'On And On And On', easily the cheesiest of all the ABBA songs I adore.

Naturally, this is no essential purchase, but for a devoted fan, it's a nice alternative to pulling out the studio records once again; for a casual buyer, it's a curious alternative to learning the charms of ABBA in the 'usual' way of purchasing ABBA Gold; and to the pop historian, it's a great document of the times and a much more trustworthy argument for ABBA's "live power" than the hilarious, endearing, but rather artifical ABBA: The Movie. So count me happy - since I'm a little bit of all three.



 Year Of Release: 1992

A very good hits collection which is probably everything you need if you're not a huge fan. Most of the tracks are from the truly 'gold' years - 1975-1977, but there is some earlier stuff ('Waterloo') and some later stuff as well. I do like this later stuff, but not as much as the earlier stuff: some is too disco-style ("Lay All Your Love On Me", "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!"), some are too pessimistic and dark ("Voulez-Vouz", "The Winner Takes It All"), some too banal and gospel-like ("I Have A Dream"), some too stupid and obviously made on occasion ("Does Your Mother Know"). Not that they are bad, they're quite fine; but they just don't have the kind of hook they used to have in the early days. And yeah, I've said all that above, but see, I wrote this review before I got around to buying the 1979-81 albums, and I'm too lazy to really re-write it.

Still, even in harder times the BB guys could do masterpieces and AA girls could sing 'em pretty well. "One Of Us" is just beautiful, although its main lyrical subject is everybody's divorces and such-like. Stunning harmonies and everything. Great. Get this collection and be happy about it! The only complaint is that it doesn't have 'Eagle' - you have to buy More Abba Gold if you want it.



 Year Of Release: 1993

An average hits collection which you probably don't need even if you are a huge fan. If the first collection was good enough to demonstrate the advantages of being an ABBA member (such as: great melodies, great melodies and... great melodies), this one just as well demonstrates the disadvantages of being the same. Thus, it has a lot of late-period stinkers which are just average synth pop ('Our Last Summer', 'Cassandra', the murky 'I Have A Dream'-rip off 'The Way All Friends Do'), occasionally arranged as a generic disco rocker ('Summer Night City', the slightly more exciting 'On And On And On'). A lot of tracks are unmemorable (the sloppy ballad 'Lovelight', 'When All Is Said And Done'), which is untypical of ABBA, but... hell, what could you expect: you can't keep on writing hit singles forever. In fact, the only interesting tracks for me here are 'Ring Ring', the gorgeous 'The Day Before You Came' and the bouncy discoish 'Under Attack' (their last single, but, strange enough, it's rather catchy). The rest are forgettable. Even the selections from the 1974-77 albums are uninspiring: there's 'Honey Honey' (yuck!), the boring superslow 'I Wonder' (from The Album), and, yes, there is 'So Long' and 'When I Kissed The Teacher', but these are not the songs I would include if I were in charge. Oh, if I were in charge... Oh well. Then again, it's got 'Eagle'. Thank God!



Year Of Release: 1977

An absolutely excellent production. On one hand, this is not just a bunch of concert footage which can bore everybody (including hardcore fans) to death. On the other hand, it isn't a silly movie where the stars rarely sing and often do a lot of idiotic things. Nope: this one is rather comparable to the Beatles' Hard Day's Night in structure. It is something like a 'tour diary' of Abba on their 1976 (?) Australian tour, shown from the viewpoint of a reporter who just has to get an interview from the band members and manages to do so only about half an hour before their departure. This film has it all - some humor, a lot of live performances and a lot of excitement. Most of the live songs are hits from Abba and Arrival, plus some clip-like scenes with the then new material from The Album ("Eagle", "The Name Of The Game", "Thank You For The Music"). Hugely recommendable. In fact, I would advise anybody to get this instead of any real live concert video. Enjoy!



Year Of Release: 1984

Don't get it if you have at least anything; get it either if you have nothing else or if you already have everything else. Because it's a stupid project. It says 'full length clips' on the cover and it's false, since most of the clips are shortened mercilessly. Some of the clips are interesting, some boring, but there are no live performances, no interesting footage or anything, and very few useful information. The running time is short, and trust me, you will not put this tape back onto your VCR for a second time. Great sound, though.


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