Arrival (1976)


Note: I’m reviewing the albums as available in the UK on CD. Track listings sometimes vary from original Swedish releases.

Cover: Last time, the cover art depicted the group as old-fashioned fops in the back seat of a chauffeur-driven car. Now that they’re global superstars, they’re in a fucking helicopter. They’re dressed all in white, while the sun is low and in their eyes, giving them an angelic glow.

Best song: Well, it’s clearly Dancing Queen, isn’t it? It was originally called Boogaloo and was a deliberate attempt to ape the then-current disco scene. All four band members have spoken of knowing instantly that they had something special. It starts with an infectious piano-slide intro, then there’s a driving hi-hat beat and cut-glass vocals. The way the track seems to endlessly wind its way upwards is mesmerising. Dancing Queen is a legal high.

Honourable mentions:

* When I Kissed the Teacher opens the album with some acoustic guitar strums, then becomes a foot-tapper reminiscent of 1960s girl-group pop. The vocal parts pile up, and there’s even a breakout line (“One of these days…”) where the track slams to a halt.

* My Love, My Life has a lovely, soft harmony intro.

* Knowing Me, Knowing You is a blockbuster. It was actually written before either of the group’s two couples split up, but the lyric – part resignation, part defiance – is the quintessential ‘divorce’ song. Frida’s characterful lead vocal is superb, as are the detailed backing parts. And the invention in the arrangement is breathtaking. Check out the delayed strikes of a guitar that open the song, the bass guitar complementing the singing line, the dramatic rise in intensity before the chorus, the ‘A-ha!’s, the neat little guitar solos, and the sexy whispered backing vocals (“They’ll be… with me… always…”). Fantastic stuff.

* Money, Money, Money. Effortlessly brilliant.

* That’s Me – a jaunty, likeable track, which is one of Agnetha’s favourite ABBA songs.

* The album closes with an instrumental that has wordless vocals and a vaguely folk or Celtic feel. It was called Arrival because that had already been chosen as the LP’s title.

Worst song: Dum Dum Diddle is a saccharin-flavoured throwaway.

Best CD extra: There’s loads of good stuff on the album’s bonus DVD. The contemporary Swedish TV special ABBA-DABBA-DOOO!!, which is a mixture of filmed performances, old clips, biography and interviews, is a hoot. You can also see Noel Edmonds introduce Fernando on Top of the Pops. But the highlight is an extract from a 1976 documentary that was the only time ABBA were ever filmed in the studio. There’s footage of Benny and Björn talking Frida and Agnetha through the vocal melody of Dancing Queen – and then, wonderfully, a clip of the women singing a verse that was cut from the finished song (“Baby, baby, you’re out of sight/Hey, you’re looking all right tonight…”).

Best video: Like so many ABBA videos, the promo for Money, Money, Money begins with a close-up of piano keys. We see lead vocalist Frida rushing through city streets, then cut to a film studio, where she’s standing moodily in an artful spotlight while wearing a big hat. She’s alone and mysterious and exotic and very sexy. Her bandmates appear whenever the song kicks into the chorus, all dressed in flamboyant white disco-karate outfits. At one point, Frida and Agnetha stand face to face so closely that you’re certain they’re going to kiss. Sadly they choose to carry on singing instead. The video has insert shots to hammer home the theme of the lyric – we see shiny coins, dollar bills, diamond rings and the group driving along in a convertible. From this album, the band also shot promos for Dancing Queen (set in a night club, handheld camera, the band on a tiny stage), That’s Me (lots of the couples hugging each other, long two-shots of the girls looking down the lens, shots repeated from Money, Money, Money) and Knowing Me Knowing You (filmed in the snow, Frida wearing a massive furry hood, more hugging and two-shots).

Review: The highs are higher than ever before. But there are still two or three tracks we could do without.

Eight laws of geometry out of 10.

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