Thursday, 10 July 2008

Studio, 1981: ABBA remains interesting

A review of the album The Visitors from Dutch TV-guide Studio, published in 1981.
ABBA continues steadily. The new album ‘The Visitors’ is a clear continuation of the two previous albums (‘Voulez-Vous’ and ‘Super Trouper’), as the identical album designs seem to signal as well. The first part of the title-track, that opens the album, might give you the impression that ABBA raised their goals. The somewhat electronically arranged voice resembles ‘Revolver’ by the Beatles, and you wonder whether Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus thought it was time to let ABBA evolve from chart-group into art-pop-group. But it doesn’t take long before the well-known, friendly disco-rhythm takes over, and we’re on safe territory again with ABBA. Writing about ABBA means writing about a phenomenon that on one side doesn’t offer much depth, and is not ground-breaking at all, but on the other you can’t help but respect, because of its evident craftsmanship. In that respect, ABBA can be compared to, for example, Norman Rockwell, the American illustrator. The drawings by Rockwell are not exactly innovative art, and they make use of all available tricks to reach the desired effect with the observer. Still, Rockwell clearly stands out among most other illustrators, and his work has a certain quality, that you only notice when you realize it remains interesting.
You could say the same of ABBA. Take a song like ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’, for instance. The song is about a daughter that is off to school, and the feeling of the father (or mother) who watches her leave, that he’s starting to lose her a little already, and that something like that goes much faster than you would think or want. It’s a familiar theme, that’s executed in a sweet but cliché kind of way. The music is sweet and romantic in an obvious way as well. But I’m convinced that I will still like this song five years from now (although I won’t play it that often), while all those other songs by chart-groups, that are in the same league, will be unbearable by then. Apart from that, this album doesn’t give the impression that ABBA is ready to quit. Although I do have my doubts when I see the promotional film for ‘One Of Us’: Anna and Frida are starting to look as if they are in desperate need of early retirement.

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