Note: I’m reviewing the albums as available in the UK on CD. Track listings sometimes vary from original Swedish releases.
Cover: The band are crammed into the back seat of a car – Benny has a hat and cane, the girls have champagne glasses, and a bored-looking fan peers through the window. This is the first of two eponymous ABBA albums.
Best song: SOS is *magnificent*, from its cute piano intro via its synthesizer foundation and chiming acoustic guitars all the way through to its slowing-down coda. There’s a poetic sense of melancholy throughout the whole thing, yet it surges defiantly into a higher gear for the chorus… then an even more intense section after that (“When you’re gone, how can I even try to go on?”). Agnetha’s singing is absolutely ace – it’s one of her great ‘acting’ vocals, where she sells the story of the song just as strongly as its music. As others have pointed out, she sounds like she’s on the verge of tears at times. There’s detail in every nook and cranny of this track, while the mix is just wonderful. John Lennon once said it was one of his favourite pop songs, though this may be the only time that ‘fact’ has been mentioned on the internet and the writer freely admits he has no idea where or when.
* Like all classic ABBA songs, Mamma Mia has a *killer* intro. Really, Benny and Björn might be the best ever songwriters in this regard. Piano and bass get the party started, then a guitar riff bursts onto the scene. The song powers along, taking dark turns before a surprisingly sparse chorus. The lyric is about being unable to resist someone you know is bad for you. Apparently, a stage show and a movie of the same name have been quite successful.
* Bang-a-Boomerang was written as another Eurovision entry – but this time for another act. Svenne & Lotta didn’t get through the Swedish heats of 1975, so ABBA took the song back and released their own version. It has a driving proto-disco beat, but quite what the title means is beyond me. When this album was released on cassette in the UK, this song had to be cut in two – one half on each side!
* Rock Me – another example of the group’s fondness for glam-rock anthems. It’s sung by Björn, who often sounds like Noddy Holder.
* Intermezzo No. 1, a bizarre lyric-less interlude that combines dramatic orchestral movements with rock instrumentation. It’s ABBA doing prog rock and is brilliantly bonkers.
Worst song: Hey, Hey Helen is dreary heavy rock about a single parent.
Best CD extra: Crazy World, worked on during the sessions for this album, was eventually released as the B-side to Money, Money, Money in 1976. It’s pleasant enough and is sung by Björn.
Best video: Four promos were filmed to accompany this album. Mamma Mia’s introduces the motif of seeing two band members in the same shot but with one in profile. Bang-a-Boomerang’s is filmed on location in Sweden and energetically crash-zooms on shots of superhero comic panels. I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’s uses a lot of soft focus. But the best is the video for SOS. After a close-up of Benny’s hands on the piano, we get Agnetha singing her opening line while looking plaintively straight down the lens. The video then features various shots of the band filmed from a high angle, so they’re looking up at us, and it sometimes uses mirrors to distort the close-ups.
Review: The cliché about ABBA albums – that they consist of two or three famous and tremendous tracks, but are filled out with also-rans – is both true and misleading. The quality of Mamma Mia and SOS stands out a country mile. But there is fun elsewhere.
Seven happy days (they seem so hard to find) out of 10.