What is it about ABBA? People just can’t seem to get enough of them. Not that I have a problem with ABBA, per se. Over the ten years they were together they produced some terrific pop, and I read the other day some ridiculous stats about their all conquering compilation ‘ABBA Gold’. I forget what they are now but it was something like ‘ABBA Gold’ has been in the British album charts since the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 and that on average every British household owns 7.4 copies of it on one format or another and that if you stacked up all the copies on CD it would create a tower that would stretch all the way to Saturn. Next thing you know they’ll be telling us that ABBA are more popular than, oh I don’t know, milk. Whatever they were, those figures were impressive and even more so when you consider that ABBA are loved just as much across most of the rest of the world. Europe love them and the Australians love them, and while they never caught on in America it didn’t really matter because what the fuck do the Americans know? They gave the world Garth Brooks and Limp Bizkit.
I’m no ABBA nut but you definitely need to tip your hat in their general direction once in a while, just to recognize what they managed to achieve. I don’t own a copy of ‘ABBA Gold’ (which means they must have 14.8 copies of it next door) but I do own a nifty little box with all their studio albums in it and another box set which charts their career across four discs of hits and obscurities. Not that obscure is a word you could really apply to ABBA because everything about them was about as obscure as third degree sunburn. From spandex jumpsuits to daft furry hoods and stack heeled boots, ABBA were there to be seen and made songs to be heard. Theirs was a glorious mash up of good and bad taste, moody glances and beaming smiles, perfectly constructed pop smothered in a sweaty layer of Swedish cheese. In the process they developed one of the true hard core fan bases of any musical act; a group of camped out lunatics who have ‘Dancing Queen’ stored in their veins; their brains hardwired to a super tuned Pavlovian urge every time they edge towards the cleared floor space at a wedding reception.
It’s strange to consider the suggestion that for all the majesty of their greatest music ABBA never released what could be called a classic album. They are, perhaps, the perfect kind of act that are best represented by a compilation – just gather together all the best bits and leave behind the stuff that was never, ever going to be quite as good. They were kind of like a 70’s pure pop version of Queen, only much, much better. Of the best there is perfection in places: the intro of ‘Take A Chance On Me’, the carefully layered oomph of the chorus on ‘The Name Of The Game’, the damp crotch yearning in excelsis of ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!’. Despite the legions of die-hards out there, in the broader scheme ABBA will never be truly top drawer because they could never have made a song with the same kind of impact as, for instance, ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, but then in fairness I doubt The Who could have delivered ‘Fernando’ with quite the same panache either. And there is no other band that could have created a song like ‘Chiquitita’, which is their real masterpiece – a rollicking bit of piano drama, with one of the great endings of any song. Ever.
As you will know by now, ABBA are back! Forty years since they decided they had made enough money to get away from each other for a while they are adorning some more stupid outfits and presenting themselves in some awful kind of holographic, virtual reality concerts. It’s all a bit silly, though you can just about see why this works with the ghosts of Elvis or Johnny Cash, but since all four quarters of ABBA are still alive and standing it seems a very cheeky to be charging fans to come and see a band that they won’t technically see. They have new product too, which is something, but you have to wonder if it’s all a step too far. For me ABBA will always be what they were when they were exactly that: ABBA. I would happily perform a lobotomy on myself than have to endure the supernova of shit that must be the ‘Mamma Mia’ musical, and I would sooner eat my television whole that watch those movies with Pierce Brosnan murdering the birds in the sky. There will be plenty of odd people with wee trickling down their thighs in anticipation of what ABBA are about to do but if there’s one consistent rule in music it tends to be that you can never get the magic back, not properly; you were at your best when you were your best, and that rarely happens twice. And that counts for ABBA too. Still, I’m sure that artistic integrity is the main priority, otherwise it would all just be about lots of money. Isn’t there a song about that?
G B Hewitt. 04.09.2021