Monday, May 19, 2008

The Creative Light of ABBA's "The Album"

By the time ABBA (Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, Anni-Frid "Frida" Lyngstad) reached their fifth LP, The Album (1977) these Swedes were already global phenoms. In 1974, they would win the hugely popular Eurovision Music Contest with their smash hit "Waterloo" from their second record of the same name, securing a skeptical British music audience and a U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Top 10 hit.

They'd continue to roll out creative and commercially acclaimed records with Abba (1975) and Arrival (1976) which were successful globally. The latter album really broke ABBA Stateside with the sparkling classic, "Dancing Queen." Andersson and Ulvaeus were the musical minds behind ABBA, but their works never would have shone as brightly without the melodic appeal of Agnetha and Frida's vocals. Until this point, ABBA had never been so adventurous on a single album.

The record was released on December 17th, 1977, conceived as a joint companion piece with the Lasse Halstrom directed mock-documentary ABBA the Movie. It also served as a springboard for Ulvaeus and Andersson to engage in their goal to make a musical. Three songs made it onto The Album that were made for "he Girl With the Golden Hair musical that detailed the successes and pitfalls of a young woman journeying to fame: "Thank You For the Music," "I Wonder (Departure)," and "I'm a Marionette.""Thank Your For the Music" originally not issued as a single, quickly became an ABBA mantra and a firm fan favorite. Agnetha's colorful, engaged vocalizing gave the song a sentimental disposition.

ABBA were also influenced by the sounds of American rock-pop groups Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles and went about mixing U.S. and European musical sensibilities to come up with something interesting. The results yieleded some of ABBA's strongest songs. The frolicsome punch of "Hole In Your Soul" was contagious with its juicy guitar licks and bouncy percussion. Agnetha and Frida joined together and worked in succession with the melody. Lyrically, the "music can solve your woes" perspective was taken as ABBA sang: "It's got to be rock 'n' roll to fill the hole in your soul." Rock purists surely guffawed at this notion coming from pop purveyors like ABBA, but the sentiment wasn't any less true.

On what could only be described as "Euro-R&B," "The Name of the Game," a strutting groove full of melancholy holds a special place in ABBA's history as one of two songs ABBA allowed to be sampled. ABBA has a strict "no sampling" rule, but when the (now-defunct) New York hip-hop outfit The Fugee's wanted to use the rhythm track from "Name," Ulvaeus and Anderrson were impressed by their knowledge of the song. They granted them permission making them, along with Madonna who tapped "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)" for her international hit "Hung Up," the only two artists cleared to sample ABBA.

Additional highlights included the coquette charm of "Take a Chance on Me," a clever blend of American guitar and bass rhythms married with European melodies. The probing mystique of the opener "Eagle." an intense, dizzying affair, lifted listeners from their perch with strange charm.

The Album gained platinum returns in its intended international market, the record placed at either number one or within the Top 10 regions in many European countries including England, Sweden, Canada, and Australia amongst others.

Both singles "Take a Chance On Me" and "The Name of the Game" added to ABBA's already growing string of British number one singles. The Album achieved gold status in the States, with "Take a Chance on Me" becoming their most popular selling single there. To date, the record has been re-released twice: in 2001 with the rest of the ABBA discography, and 2007 with an additional disc of outtakes and non-album tracks.

"Take a Chance on Me"
Directed by: Lasse Halstrom

The Album was the last overtly "light hearted" record they'd create, something critics often used against ABBA. They pushed forward as pop artisans with sexier, starker, at times desolate themes with albums such as Voulez-Vous (1979), Super Trouper (1980), and The Visitors (1981). The shift in mood owed to the paired off couples within the group divorcing, making the songwriting poignant and the recording sessions tenser. Yet, the music evolved into a richer pop tapestry.

On the whole, The Album was the perfect ABBA record at that junction. Their brand of story telling and (at times) quirky Swede pop appeal had finally been honed to near perfection. Five out of five stars.-QH


S. Flemming said...

I still can't believe you actually made me watch that movie, ha ha. I like some of their stuff, though 'Super Trooper' is the only album by them I own. And that white outfit with the gray blazer he is wearing in that second photo is pure fire. He better get it! LOL

Nick said...

great entry! but you have to admit "dark abba is pretty amazing!

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