Friday, 16 January 2009

Apeldoornse Courant, 1980: ABBA breaks through disco-barrier (Super Trouper album review)

A review of the Super Trouper album from a Dutch newspaper, brightened up with pics from a 1980 fanmagazine.
On hearing certain types of pop, jazz or other light music, some people who only like classical music are saying: “If Bach or Mozart could hear this, he would turn in his grave.” I think that Bach or Mozart would do just that on hearing ABBA, but then to keep on listening to so much musical beauty and murmur to themselves: “My, finally we’ve gotten some competition.”
Especially ‘Super Trouper’ (Polydor 2344.162), the Swedish group’s latest album and by far the best one since ‘Arrival’, at least validates my opinion that up until now the world has only known three popgroups that musically are of a truly international class: the Beatles, Fleetwood Mac and ABBA.

Are you even allowed to say that, when their records are selling like hotcakes and therefore seem to fulfil a certain need? Isn’t especially ABBA a group that’s riding on a commercial wave and therefore needs to make concessions?
I’ll gladly admit that musically and lyrically, especially ‘Voulez-Vous’ offered too much compromises to the disco-children. In the meantime, the ABBA-members could actually be their parents. But on the other hand: why only consider the older side of your audience, when it also consists of youngsters?
It seems to me that a stronger argument for ABBA getting ‘commercialized’ is that, especially in pop music, trends come and go.
And that for example a world-class group like ABBA, with their previous album, just had to join in the disco wave, that was just up and coming at that time. It would have been a shame if Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid had stuck to those attempts. But fortunately, that didn’t happen. On ‘Super Trouper’, there’s still a lot of disco, but the Swedish foursome has had – just like it’s the case with the old rock they’re still putting into their records – the inspiration and the courage to digest that trend so well, that they’ve actually grown above it and incorporated it into their style, that’s completely their own.
Isn’t that style commercial then? Especially the repeating of it? And the constant repeating of certain parts and effects? Maybe so. But then, Bach and Mozart would have to be commercial as well, because on hearing their compositions, you can immediately tell that they’re Bach’s or Mozart’s, without ever having heard these gentlemen play, let alone see them perform in a theatre or on television.

What ABBA (and then mainly the boys, who write the songs) have in common with Bach and Mozart is their preference to musical beauty, the exploring of all chances of their musical creativity to get there. In the past, this hasn’t always happened without a good sense of commerciality, but that element isn’t important any longer as soon as you hear the enormous dose of musical beauty, that’s especially present on the B-side of ‘Super Trouper’, and that immediately takes hold of you.

There’s another reason why I like to compare ABBA to the Beatles and Fleetwood Mac: all three of these groups have achieved their best performance in times of internal turmoil. The Beatles with ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band’, Fleetwood Mac with ‘Tusk’, and now ABBA with ‘Super Trouper’.

Lyrically, the complete A-side seems like the reflection and artistic digestion of blonde Agnetha’s personal problems. For the sake of convenience, I will review the songs one by one.

First, there’s the title-track ‘Super Trouper’, that deals with the member of a supergroup and the anxiety and the comfort of his (or in this case, her) success on stage, when she wants to be happy outside of that concept as well, with her lover in that other world of the audience. She feels cold in this world of glitter. The comparison to ‘Star’ by Janis Ian (Conny Vandenbos: ‘Kind, Je Bent Een Ster’) is unavoidable: here the star is singing herself.

Then comes the familiar ‘The Winner Takes It All’, about the sadness and the reconcilement of someone who has been abandoned and who’s love has been taken away abruptly by the cheater, the new partner and justice.
In ‘On And On And On’, he/she tries to forget all personal problems and the burdens of the world, simply by keeping on dancing: ‘Keep on rocking, baby, / ‘til the night is gone’.
Then comes ‘Andante, Andante’, a splendid lovesong in the style of beautiful Italian ballads from the sixties, like ‘Gondoli, Gondola’ by Caterina Valente.

The new love of ABBA’s blonde? In any case, the psychiatrist enters the scene in ‘Me And I’, the signature song of the split personality, that looks upon his/herself. It all sounds funny, a bit crazy even, but it’s all about the era of the individual. Even Freud gets a mention.

By the way, as it turns out, ABBA seems to know even more intellectual writers because the fantastic B-side opens with ‘Happy New Year’, in which Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World gets attended to. Typically a song for the future. It’s all about encouragement at the start of the eighties. A message, for which especially a world-famous group like ABBA is the right medium for all ages: ‘Seems to me now / that the dreams / we had before / are all dead / Nothing more / than confetti / on the floor / It’s the end of a decade / In another ten years time / who can say / what we’ll find / what lies / waiting / down the line / In the end / of eighty-nine?’.

Immediately followed by a ten-year retrospection via ‘Our Last Summer’: to the hippies in Paris around 1970 (the boyfriend from that time has now turned into a confined civil servant who likes football).

Subsequently a song with a double meaning: ‘The Piper’. The first verse makes you think of the charms of flute-players like James Galway and George Zamphir, the second verse of flute-players on a market plaza from the Bible and the third of the dictators with their mass hysteria.

After ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’, despite the disco-rhythm a lovesong with a chorus like a chorale, the record ends with ‘The Way Old Friends Do’, that lyrically reminds one of ‘L’amour Des Deux Amants’ by Jacques Brel (‘Liefde Van Later’ by Herman van Veen), and musically of an old Scottish melody, of ‘Amazing Grace’, of the title-track of ‘Arrival’ as well. And unfortunately, due to the singing in unison at the end, of the universal effect of ‘Alle Menschen wirden Brüder’ by Beethoven. Unfortunately, because actually I don’t grant ABBA that comparison to the big classical masters based on their universal music. As it happens, this effect is at least as commercial as the bombastic end of Beethoven’s ninth symphony. After all, there is no serious and light music? Only good and bad music! Well then, ABBA: watch out for the temptations of the night from the third verse of ‘The Piper’! Your old friend: Jan van der Kleij.

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