ABBA: The Album (1977)

Abba-The_album

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

Cover: Released as a tie-in to ABBA: The Movie – a concert film with some fictional material weaved in – this superb album has bonkers cover art. In amongst the colourful swashes are images of the band’s faces, an aeroplane, a kangaroo, a taxi, a marionette and other things vaguely connected to the music or movie. Next to the logo is a full-black illustration of the band as cartoon stick figures.

Best song: The opener, Eagle, is thrilling. It’s the longest track the band ever recorded (5.51) and it’s not just the running time that makes it feel enormous. From the powering-up intro, the song sounds like it’s landing from outer space. There’s extensive use of guitars, which chime, jangle, ping, sweep and soar, while the multi-tracked vocals are *beautiful*. The title seems like it’s a reference to the band the Eagles. The music is vaguely reminiscent of their 1975 song Journey of the Sorcerer, and Eagle was written soon after Benny and Björn visited a soft-rock-obsessed LA in May 1977. However, Björn denies this. He says his lyrics – a simple but highly effective metaphor for freedom and escape – were written while surrounded by ‘nature, water and space.’ Whatever the inspiration, it’s a brilliant song. A tremendous evocation of mood and feeling. *Great* bass sound too.

Honourable mentions:

* Take a Chance on Me. Björn had the idea for it while out running and a ‘tck-a-ch’ rhythm occurred to him. Adapting it to the phrase ‘take a chance’, he and Benny fashioned one of ABBA’s most appealing songs. It’s catchy, fun and extremely well put-together. The ‘cold open’ of clashing vocal parts is fantastic, while Agnetha gets some sultry spoken lines (“That’s all I ask of you, honey…”). There’s also great use of synthesisers to add sparkle to everything.

* One Man, One Woman, a power ballad, is sung beautifully by Frida. Björn was affronted by criticism of his ‘simplistic’ words so wrote this narrative-driven lyric, which acts as a flipside to Knowing Me, Knowing You’s coin.

* The absolutely sensational The Name of the Game has a very complex arrangement. There’s a deliciously laid-back bass/synth-riff opening (inspired by Stevie Wonder’s sublime I Wish); the drumming is used really well; there are lots of guitars; we get bursts of horn instruments; Agnetha and Frida share and swap the vocal lines; and the structure features a few ‘breakdowns’. It’s therefore never dull, never cliché. Björn says that Boston’s FM-radio favourite More Than a Feeling was an inspiration.

* Move On has an arch spoken-word verse sung by Björn like he’s Orson Welles introducing a ghost story, then Agnetha takes over.

* Hole in Your Soul has a fun quick/slow/urgent/relaxed structure throughout.

Worst song: Thank You For the Music, a sugary, earnest, inexplicably popular piece of musical-theatre. It’s the start of a three-song medley that closes the album – a mini-musical called The Girl With the Golden Hair, which ABBA used in their live set around this time. After Thank You For the Music, there’s the dull I Wonder (Departure) and the up-tempo I’m a Marionette. (When performed live, the sequence was narrated by Captain Scarlet himself, Francis Matthews, and there was a fourth song – Get On the Carousel – which was dropped from the album because it was too repetitive.)

Best CD extra: Amongst other treats, the bonus DVD allows us to see the band… missing their cue as they mime to Take a Chance on Me on West German TV… mime The Name of the Game for Japanese telly in front of a huge semi-circular tube full of balloons… mime to a stripped-down mix of Thank You For The Music on The Mike Yarwood Christmas Show… and chat rather timidly with Lesley Judd on Blue Peter in February 1978. But the highlight is a clip from a Swedish TV show called Gomorron Sverige, broadcast on 17 September 1977. A reporter takes a young ABBA fan called Fredrik to meet Benny and Björn in the studio as they work on their new album. Benny shows the boy how to play Fernando on the piano, then he and Björn give him a preview of the yet-to-be-released The Name of the Game.

Best video: Take a Chance On Me. The song’s vocal-gymnastics opening is represented by the screen being split into quarters: each band member singing their part. We then get a montage of bizarre and brilliant images… The band on a blank white space with the boys looking glum and the girls dancing and singing joyfully into the camera… Soft-focus close-ups, during which Agnetha and Frida wink at us… Frida listening on headphones to her home stereo system… And some sensationally sexy shots of Agnetha’s head popping up into view having been ducked out of shot… Also given the music-video treatment from this album were The Name of the Game, Eagle, Thank You For the Music and One Man, One Woman. Eagle uses lots of then-ground-breaking video effects.

Review: Sumptuous. It perhaps tails off in the second half, but the opening five tracks are very, very strong. Experimental, bold and classy.

Nine mountains and forests and seas out of 10.

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