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Abba

Swedish Pop Group

Studio Albums

Ring Ring (1973)

Waterloo (1974)

Abba (1975)

Arrival (1976)

The Album (1977)

Voulez-Vous (1979)

Super Trouper (1980)

The Visitors (1981)

 

Live Albums

Abba Live (1986)

 

Selected Compilations

Greatest Hits (1975)

Greatest Hits Volume 2 (1979)

Gracias Por La Musica (1981)

The Singles The First 10 Years (1982)

Abba Gold (1992)

More Abba Gold (1993)

Oro Grandes Exitos (1993)

Thank You for the Music (1995)

The Definitive Collection (2001)

The Complete Studio Recordings (2005)

Classic Abba (2005)

Number Ones (2006)

18 Hits (2008)

 

Linked Albums

 

Agnetha Faltskog - 

Wrap Your Arms Around Me (1983)

Eyes of a Woman (1987)

I Stand Alone (1988)

That's Me The Greatest Hits (1999)

10 Ar Med Agnetha (2001)

My Colouring Book (2004)

 

 

Titles in red have been reviewed. Those in black are to be reviewed

 

 Abba

Abba quite rightly have a solid claim to being the best pure pop band ever. This is based on the consistency of their singles and their instantly recognisable songs that have become a staple disco diet for many. There is nothing to dislike about the band. They produced superb pop melodies and are as popular today as ever thanks to movie and stage adaptations of their work. It is very difficult to look at their work from a serious critical viewpoint as they set out to mould a style and did it as well as anybody before them or anybody after. Abba are simply a classic pop band with their music instantly recognisable to people of all ages. But the idea of this site is to take a critical look at music.... so here goes. I have kept to the original albums as many have been re-released and re-packaged with additional tracks.

 

Ring Ring - 4.5

The embryo album that had an unsure start to life, but is now recognised as the band's first, despite the fact that it didn't get released in the United Kingdom until 1992. The original album was released not under the Abba name but that of the four group members Bjorn & Benny and Agnetha & Frida. Some of the lyrics are short of inspiration to say the least and the songs in general are not the smartly crafted pop that was to come later. There are still hints, however, of the joyous music to come although tracks such as "I Saw It in the Mirror"  and the bubblegum pop of "He's Your Brother" have a very limited appeal. Bjorn and Benny have their share of the vocals as if they are unsure about allowing the girls to take centre stage. Of course when they did the results were quite spectacular. It would of course take victory in the Eurovision Song Contest to bring them to prominence. Ironically some of the songs on here seem to come straight from the poppy annuls of Europop. Still songs like "Ring Ring" "Me and Bobby and Bobby's Brother" and "Nina Pretty Ballerina" hinted quietly of the riches to come. Elsewhere there's plenty of hippy trippy pop. Inoffensive if unspectacular.

Waterloo - 5

The title track has never been one of my favourite Abba songs and so that doesn't start this one on a solid footing, although there is no doubt that Abba are the best thing ever to come out of the Eurovision Song Contest apart from Secret Garden. This has a similar feel to the first album, although the real hints of pop music writing genius are becoming evident in "Hasta Manana" one of their most endearing songs and a blueprint for so many pop songs that were to follow and "Dance (While the Music Still Goes On)". Sadly songs like "Sitting in the Palm Tree" and "King Kong Song" are dreadful and the kind of thing you would expect from trashy party groups like Black Lace. It's a tough call as to whether this is an improvement on Ring Ring. Perhaps it is a little more slick.

Abba - 5.5

It seems that Abba's albums have a natural progression with each slightly better than the previous. On their third album the band were beginning slowly to define a style that would lay claim to the greatest pure pop band of all time, but they were fare from there. Again there's a hotch potch of styles and sadly a considerable amount of dross to wade through. They were beginning to put the hits together and it was almost as if the best tracks off this album would be plucked out for greatest hits collections whilst the others would stay in obscurity. So we get "Mamma Mia", "SOS" and "I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, but sadly little else of note. Almost as if the songwriting is still evolving and waiting for that breakthrough. Again there are too many filler tracks. Just listing the tracks giives some idea of the obvious lack of class - "Tropical Loveland," "Hey, Hey Helen," "Man in the Middle" and "Bang a Boomerang" Bjorn and Benny try their hand at classical with "Intermezzo No 1" but once again it's quite a lame effort.

Arrival - 6.5

Many bands start at the top of their game and then almost disintegrate after two or three albums. Abba had much more of a long game plan than that and with Arrival they stepped up a gear with a more sophisticated and classy sound that at last stretched their vocal ability thanks to much more complex songs such as "My Love, My Life." As the melodies improved so did the lyrics. Songs began to take on a meaning rather deeper than the shallowness of much of the first three albums although there are still some aberrations like the meaningless pap of  "Dum Dum Diddle." The album contains what was to almost become Abba's theme song "Dancing Queen" along with other top 10 hits "Knowing Me, Knowing You" and "Money, Money, Money." With tracks like "Knowing Me, Knowing You" they kept their pop sensibilities but with poignant and much more biting lyrics. This was a distinct improvement on what had gone before.

The Album - 7

Abba by now were producing intelligent, literate pop whilst not compromising on the singalong quality. This album had a distinctive feel about it with more use of synthesisers and even spoken vocals on "Move On." There's a strong opening with soaring vocals on "Eagle" and the album contains my favourite Abba track "Thank You For the Music" which somehow seems to represent everything the band stood for. Of course the album is far from perfect, again there is some filler and low points but at this point in their career they were trying to vary their output and become more progressive. This is shown by the fact that three songs on the second side of the original album came from a mini musical entitled "Girl with the Golden Hair" - these include "Thank You for the Music," "I Wonder" and "I am a Marionette."

Voulez Vous - 7

There is much more of a disco feel about Voulez Vous but that doesn't detract from an album where at last there is no filler material. Marriage break-ups and relationship problems seem to have worked in the group's favour as the songs become more biting and meaningful. Just listen to "Angel Eyes" and "If It Wasn't For the Nights"  to see what I mean. It's almost as if the quartet are using confessional material to expound their thoughts and sorrows in a strangely therapeutic style reminiscent of some of Fleetwood Mac's material. It gives the album an almost sad quality. There is some top class pop material here such as "As Good As New," "Chiquitita" and "I Have A Dream." Voulez Vous proved that Abba were by now a class act.

Super Trouper - 7.5

Abba in the groove - same formula, similar songs but everything still sounds as fresh as ever and the hits and memorable songs keep rolling off the production line without anything sounding hackneyed. Yes it's all as fresh as ever  and choc full of outstanding songs like "Super Trouper" with the immortal lines "I was sad and tired of everything, when I called you last night from Glasgow" and the brilliant break-up song "The Winner Takes it All." Elsewhere "Our Last Summer" and "Happy New Year" are evidence of spot on songwriting. There is an inherent sadness about this album with strong lyrics a million miles away from those of five years previous. Abba had come of age. This is grown up pop/rock for middle aged angst ridden people. This album is full of lost opportunity and proved once again that within slightly sugary tunes, biting poetry could be intertwined.

The Visitors - 7

And finally we come to the break-up album - the final studio offering from Abba as we knew them and another musical shift in direction. It's only when you listen to the various albums carefully that you notice a definite change to cope with the times and there is a feeling that a break-up after this album was inevitable with Bjorn and Benny looking towards new projects. The opening track "The Visitors" is an almost frightening climatic offering. The group have said that at this point things were beginning to fall apart with little or no enjoyment from recording and playing together. This is possibly reflected in the lyrics for "When All Is Said and Done." Certainly from an artistic point there is considerable merit in this album. "I Let the Music Speak" hints at the direction Bjorn and Benny would be following in the future. It's a slightly bombastic song that you could imagine turning up on the West End stage. This takes more listening to than probably any other Abba album and because of that it is strangely rewarding in its lack of immediacy.

Abba Live