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ABBA - Topic

ABBA [Import Bonus Tracks] Play

ABBA's self-titled third album was the one that really broke the group on a worldwide basis. The Eurovision Song Contest winner "Waterloo" had been a major international hit and "Honey, Honey" a more modest one, but ABBA was still an exotic novelty to most of those outside Scandinavia until the release of ABBA in the spring of 1975. "I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do," a schmaltzy tribute to the sound of '50s orchestra leader Billy Vaughn, seemed an unlikely first single, and indeed it barely scraped into the Top 40 in the U.K. But in Australia, it topped the charts, causing the Australian record company to pull its own second single, "Mamma Mia," off the album. This far more appealing pop/rock number followed its predecessor into the pole position Down Under and also topped the charts throughout Europe. "Bang-A-Boomerang," another big production, was less memorable and had less of an impact, but "S.O.S." brought ABBA back to big success in the U.S. and the U.K., pulling along the first two singles. Beyond these tracks, the LP-only songs showed off the group's eclecticism, from the crunchy hard rock guitar riff that propelled "Hey, Hey Helen" to the ambitious instrumental "Intermezzo No. 1," which showed off Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus' classical leanings and foreshadowed their bigger composing projects of the 1980s. ABBA was a surprisingly effective synthesis of pop and rock styles, surprising because the non-English-speaking world had not produced such effective Anglo-American-style contemporary music before, at least for more than a song or two. (The 2001 reissue of ABBA, first released internationally and finally in the U.S., contains "Crazy World," a song from the sessions for the album later released as a B-side, and a medley of folk songs first heard on a charity album.) ~ William Ruhlmann, Rovi

Super Troupers: From Waterloo to Mamma Mia! [DVD] Play

The 90-minute documentary film Super Troupers: Thirty Years of ABBA, which takes up three-quarters of this DVD, is built around the celebrations for the fifth anniversary of the London opening of the musical Mamma Mia!, based on ABBA songs, on April 6, 2004, a date that also marked the 30th anniversary of the day "Waterloo" won the Eurovision Song Contest, launching ABBA's international career. For the performance at the Prince Edward Theatre, former ABBA members Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad travel from Sweden to appear on-stage; although the film teases that the group's fourth member, Agnetha Fältskog, may appear, bringing the quartet together in public for the first time since 1982; she does not. Nevertheless, interview footage and audiotape of her is included, along with comments by the other three. The film borrows heavily from ABBA music videos and from portions of the film ABBA: The Movie, cutting back and forth between performances and backstage footage of the group in its heyday and the former members in London in 2004. Songwriter/producer Pete Waterman, his booming voice and middle-class British accent often recalling interviewer David Frost, serves as an occasional narrator as ABBA's history is recounted, going back to the early careers of the individual members. ABBA fans will probably find this history the most interesting part of the film, as it shows such pre-ABBA bands as $the Hep Stars (featuring Andersson) and the Hootenanny Singers (with Ulvaeus) in action, along with excerpts from early solo performances by Lyngstad and Fältskog. There is some disappointment that the reclusive Fältskog does not join the festivities, but this is ameliorated somewhat by the news that she is working on a new album and by footage of her in the studio doing so. The DVD's extras include the complete finale of Mamma Mia! on the anniversary night and interviews with Ulvaeus and Lyngstad. The result is the best documentary on ABBA yet assembled. ~ William Ruhlmann, Rovi

The Last Video Play

The continuing success of ABBA, decades after the band's breakup, has brought repeated calls for a reunion that have gone unanswered until now -- sort of. Perhaps aware that, even without planning to record or tour again, they had some responsibility to continue to promote their catalog, the members of ABBA -- Benny Andersson, Agnetha Fältskog, Anni-Frid Lyngstad, and Björn Ulvaeus -- agreed to the creation of the six-and-a-half-minute comic film The Last Video, in which they are portrayed by puppets created by the Jim Henson studio. In the film, the puppets and their manager (played by opera singer and actor Loa Falkman) turn up in the office of a record company executive (played by British actor Rik Mayall, known for the TV series The Young Ones) and perform for him while various people come and go. The puppets mime to "Take a Chance on Me," "Dancing Queen," "Waterloo," and "The Winner Takes It All," and among those appearing in silent cameos are all four ABBA members and, oddly enough, Cher! Dialogue is drawn from ABBA lyrics. Of course, at the end, the record executive turns them down. The DVD is filled out with the original music videos of the four songs featured in the film, a "behind the scenes" feature that runs slightly longer than the film itself, and a photo gallery. ABBA fans clamoring for a reunion are not likely to be satisfied, but they may find the puppets amusing and the glimpses of the former band members 20-years-on intriguing. ~ William Ruhlmann, Rovi

Super Trouper Play

Commercially, Super Trouper, ABBA's seventh album, was another worldwide blockbuster. "The Winner Takes It All," its lead-off single, released several months in advance of the album in most territories, was a smash; for example, it was the group's 14th consecutive Top Five hit in the U.K. and their eighth number one there. The title track was also a British chart-topper (their last), as was the album, their sixth. "Lay All Your Love on Me" made the U.K. Top Ten, and "On and on and On" was released as a single in some countries, hitting the Top Ten in Australia. (Typically, American success was more modest, though the album went gold, and "The Winner Takes It All" was a number one adult contemporary and Top Ten pop hit.) Musically, Super Trouper found ABBA, always trend-conscious, taking account of the passing of disco and returning to the pop/rock sound typical of their early albums. Only "Lay All Your Love on Me" employed a dance approach. The title song had the kind of martial beat and pop sound more in keeping with the group that had broken through with "Mamma Mia" and "S.O.S.," and "On and on and On" paid homage to one of their chief influences, the Beach Boys, with an arrangement reminiscent of "Do It Again." Lyrically, there was a distinct sense of world weariness and melancholy, from the divorce lamentations of "The Winner Takes It All" to the dissatisfaction with touring expressed in "Super Trouper" and even the nostalgia for a simpler time in "Our Last Summer." For performers on top of the world, the members of ABBA were putting an unusual amount of what sounded like real unhappiness into their pop music. [The 2001 reissue added "Elaine," a non-LP B-side, and "Put on Your White Sombrero," an outtake. Both were excellent songs.] ~ William Ruhlmann, Rovi

Voulez-Vous Play

That it took nearly a year to record Voulez-Vous is an indicator of the creative and personal box in which the four members of ABBA found themselves at the end of the '70s. Their sixth album coincided with the marital split between Agnetha Fältskog and Björn Ulvaeus and the massively shifting currents in popular music, with disco, which had been on the wane, suddenly undergoing a renaissance thanks to the 1977 movie Saturday Night Fever. Thus, about half of Voulez-Vous shows the heavy influence of the Bee Gees from their megahit disco era. This is shown not just in the fact that the backing track for the title song was cut at Criteria Studios in Miami, where the Bee Gees had cut Main Course, Children of the World, and most of the rest of their disco-era music, but through the funky beat that ran through much of the material; yet the album still had a pair of soft, lyrical Europop-style ballads, "I Have a Dream" and "Chiquitita," both of which proved as popular as any of the more dance-oriented songs, and were reminders of Fältskog's and Ulvaeus' roots, in particular, in popular folk music during the mid- to late '60s. Those two songs, plus "Angeleyes," "Does Your Mother Know," and the title cut, were all Top Five singles in England, although only "Chiquitita" and "Does Your Mother Know" were Top 40 hits in America, where the album's sales peaked at a modest 500,000 or so. [Voulez-Vous, which originally appeared in America on the Atlantic label, was reissued by PolyGram in an upgraded remastered form on CD in 1999, and then in a further upgrade by Universal Music in digipack form with extensive historical notes and full lyrics in the fall of 2001, with three bonus cuts. "Summer Night City" only reinforced the stylistic connection of the sessions with the Bee Gees, while the undeservedly overlooked "Lovelight" was a non-LP B-side to "Chiquitita" and "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)" was the hit that emerged immediately after the LP, to coincide with the quartet's upcoming tour. The sound on the 2001 reissue makes it superior to any prior edition, all of the vocals coming through with startling clarity and details, such as the crunchy guitar on "Does Your Mother Know" punching through like it's in the same room with you. Coupled with the opulent packaging, it's the obvious choice for anyone looking to buy this record.] ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi

Ring Ring Play

If it seems as though the familiar ABBA sound isn't present on this album, that's because there was no entity known as ABBA at the time that the earliest sides here were recorded. Growing out of an attempt by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus to record together with their respective companions, Agnetha Faltskog and Frida "Anni-Frid" Lyngstad, the first side cut here, "People Need Love," featured the two men singing just as prominently as the women, and was credited to "Bjorn and Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid." It was only after its release and the cutting of a further single, "Ring, Ring," that the more familiar sound of the quartet began to coalesce along with the idea of a permanent professional association. Unreleased in the United States until 1995, this album is more of a generic European pop release than an ABBA release; the music has several unusual attributes, including Andersson and Ulvaeus singing lead on several cuts, and also one original song, the moody ballad "Disillusion," co-authored by Agnetha Faltskog. Most of what's here is pleasantly upbeat Europop, with unusually good playing and a lot of spirit, all showing the influence of mainstream American and British pop/rock, including the late-era Beatles and early Elton John, and on the title track, a Phil Spector-proportioned production. Ring Ring was reissued in October of 2001 with extensive notes, state-of-the-art sound, and three bonus tracks: the single B-sides "Merry-Go-Round" and "Santa Rosa" (a smooth piece of California-style rock in the mold of the early Eagles) and the Swedish version of "Ring, Ring" (which charted number one in Sweden to the English version's number two spot). ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi

Arrival [Import Bonus Tracks 2001] Play

ABBA's fourth album appeared after the group had arrived as major stars shows the quartet at the absolute top of their game. In addition to "Dancing Queen," which is probably their best-known hit (a number one single on both sides of the Atlantic), the record was filled with brilliant material, including the spirited "When I Kissed the Teacher"; the dramatic, achingly beautiful "Knowing Me, Knowing You" (yet a further hit); the pounding "Money, Money, Money" (still another hit off the album); and the playful "That's Me." Arrival was reissued in October of 2001 in a 24-bit digital transfer, in a handsome gatefold package with two bonus tracks added on. The upgraded sound puts the piano on "Dancing Queen" practically in the room with the listener, and the rhythm guitars by Björn Ulvaeus and Lasse Wellander on "Knowing Me, Knowing You," "When I Kissed the Teacher," and "Dum Dum Diddle" are up very close. The other big beneficiaries are Rutger Gunnarsson's muscular bass playing throughout the album, which never sounded sharper or more effective, and Benny Andersson's keyboards everywhere, which have real presence. Wellander's power chords over the chorus of "Knowing Me, Knowing You" are some of those dramatic musical effects that this group played for maximum effect, which gave their music a raw power that their detractors usually overlooked; in the new edition, it's impossible to ignore. What's more, the sheer impact of the bass drums behind the choruses on "Tiger" will be pretty impressive to any noise freaks. And all of the voices are in very sharp relief; every iota of richness is now on display. So one can now fully appreciate what Frida Lyngstad was hearing when she found the playback of the backing track on "Dancing Queen" beautiful enough to cry over the first time she heard it. The two bonus cuts are both choice additions: the lost B-side, "Happy Hawaii," is a soaring, rocking dance number that got left off the album, and the chronologically related single "Fernando" had been recorded during the making of the LP but not included on it in most of the world. The latter is a profoundly beautiful song that, with its use of flutes and a folk-like melody, is a sort of disco-era follow-up to Simon & Garfunkel's "El Condor Pasa." ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi

Gold [Video/DVD] Play

While history loudly recalls the Beatles, David Bowie, and, of course, Queen as the forefathers of modern rock video, ABBA, too, can claim a share of the pioneering honors. Long before it became de rigeur for every band's every single to be accompanied by a promotional film, ABBA and director Lasse Hallstrom were producing three-minute mini-movies to compensate foreign markets for the band's own inability to travel the world for every successive new release. The result, beginning with 1974's breakthrough hit "Waterloo," was a sequence that, by the time MTV commenced broadcasting in August 1981, stretched to a staggering 26 videos, not only wrapping up all the quartet's biggest hits, but also cuts that never even made it out on single in Britain and America. Released to partner the Gold: Greatest Hits CD collection, the Gold VHS rounds up the videos for 17 of ABBA's best-loved hits, plus two more compiling still photographs and the like as backdrop to "Dancing Queen" and "Lay All Your Love on Me," the latter a summer 1981 hit that, for some reason, was never granted a real film of its own. And, though it has since been thoroughly superseded by the infinitely more complete (35 tracks) Definitive Collection DVD, it's nevertheless a superb roundup of all the timeless joys that ABBA's first half-decade represents. Criticism, on the other hand, is largely confined to the compiler's refusal to follow a chronological thread and the number of videos that begin with a shot of Benny Andersson's keyboard. That and the fact that ABBA's influence on the then-fledgling video medium still escapes most observers. In terms of concept, choreography, and, of course, costuming, ABBA was streets ahead of all their competitors. ~ Dave Thompson, Rovi

The Visitors Play

ABBA's final album was recorded during a period of major personal shakeups, principally in the decision by Benny Andersson and Frida to follow the same route to divorce that had already been taken by Björn Ulvaeus and Agnetha Faltskog. Both male members of the group would soon remarry, but at the time, despite all of these changes in their circumstances, The Visitors was never intended as ABBA's swan song -- they were to go on recording together. That may explain why, rather than a threadbare, thrown-together feel, The Visitors is a beautifully made, very sophisticated album, filled with serious but never downbeat songs, all beautifully sung and showing off some of the bold songwriting efforts. The title track is a topical song about Soviet dissidents that also manages to be very catchy, while "I Let the Music Speak" sounds like a Broadway number (and a very good one, at that) in search of a musical to be part of, and "When All Is Said and Done" is a serious, achingly beautiful ballad with a lot to say about their personal situations -- even "Two for the Price of One," a lighthearted song sung by Björn Ulvaeus about answering a personal advertisement, offered several catchy hooks and beautiful backup singing. "Like an Angel Passing Through My Room" ended the original album on a hauntingly ethereal note, but not as any kind of larger statement about the quartet's fate. The intention was to keep working together, but Andersson and Ulvaeus' growing involvement with their stage project, Chess, prevented any further work together by the group beyond three songs, "The Day Before You Came," "Cassandra," and "Under Attack" -- they're all present as bonus tracks on the 2001 remastered edition (in gatefold packaging), along with the orphaned B-side "Should I Laugh or Cry" from the same sessions as The Visitors, and only add to the appeal of the original album. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi

Waterloo Play

ABBA's second (and U.S. debut) album contains the American Top Ten title track, as well as "Honey, Honey," a minor U.S. hit that deserved better. This album is rather unusual in the group's output, however, for the fact that the guys are still featured fairly prominently in some of the vocals, and for the variety of sounds -- including reggae, folk-rock, and hard rock -- embraced by its songs. The reggae number "Sitting in the Palmtree" is quite remarkable to hear, with its perfect Caribbean beat and those radiant female voices carrying the chorus behind the beat. "King Kong Song" is a good example of hard rock by rote, going through the motions of screaming vocals and over-amplified guitar (courtesy of Janne Schaffer), although even here, when the women's voices jump in on the choruses, it's hard not to listen attentively; the quartet knew what a powerful weapon they had, but not quite how to use it. They get a little closer to their winning formula on the catchy, folky-textured pop song "Hasta Mañana," which sounds like a lost Mary Hopkin number. "Dance (While the Music Still Goes On)" is on the money, as the embodiment of the Euro-disco sound that the group would move in the millions on their coming albums, although it also embraces a vague oldies sound, with a melody that somehow reminds this listener of both the Four Seasons' "Dawn" and the Beach Boys' "Don't Worry Baby." [The 1999 Polygram remastering added no songs but was still a significant improvement over the original LP or earlier CD editions. Waterloo was also reissued in October of 2001 in a digipack format with extensive new notes, even crisper state-of-the-art sound, and three bonus cuts, the 1974 remix of "Ring, Ring" and the Swedish versions of "Waterloo" and "Honey Honey" -- their presence, and the 24-bit digital audio, only serve to make a beautiful album even better.] ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi

Album [Import Bonus Track] Play

ABBA's fifth album was a marked step forward for the group, having evolved out of Europop music into a world-class rock act over their previous two albums, they now proceeded to absorb and assimilate some of the influences around them, particularly the laid-back California sound of Fleetwood Mac (curiously, like ABBA, then a band with two couples at its center), as well as some of the attributes of progressive rock. That they did this without compromising their essential virtues as a pop ensemble makes this album seem even more extraordinary, though at the time nobody bothered to analyze it -- The Album was simply an incredibly popular release, yielding two British number one singles in "The Name of the Game" and "Take a Chance on Me" (which made the Top Five in America, their second-best showing after "Dancing Queen"), and achieving the quartet's highest-ever showing on the U.S. LP charts, reaching the Top 20 and selling a million copies in six months. The opening number, "Eagle," dominated by synthesizers and soaring larger-than-life vocal flourishes, is followed by the more lyrical "Take a Chance on Me," with its luminous a cappella opening. The whole album is like that, effortlessly straddling hard rock, pop/rock, dance-rock, and progressive rock -- though the hits tend to stand out in highest relief, there are superb album tracks here, including the driving, lushly harmonized "Move On" and "Hole in Your Soul," which provides guitarist Lasse Wellander with a beautiful showcase for his lead electric playing. The second side of the album is dominated by material from a "mini-musical" called Girl with the Golden Hair that Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus wrote for the concerts on their just-ended tour intended to be used in a dramatically coherent storytelling context. Two of its songs, "Thank You for the Music" and "I Wonder (Devotion)," are less exciting than the straight rock material found elsewhere on the album, though the former became a popular concert number for the quartet, while the latter is the kind of lushly melodic, moodily reflective song that could easily have graced a Barbra Streisand album of the era. The closer, "I'm a Marionette," however, is a startlingly bold attempt to recast the influence of Kurt Weill in a hard rock mode, ending The Album on a high note, musically and artistically. ~ Bruce Eder & William Ruhlmann, Rovi

Éxitos Eternos Play

The latest remastering cycle on ABBA's catalog has yielded a neat CD, Éxitos Eternos, that pretty much supplants Oro: Grandes Exitos, the previous compilation of the group's Spanish-language tracks. Apart from exquisite sound -- so that not only the voices but the acoustic guitars and the electric bass on "Estoy Sonando" ("I Have a Dream") have extraordinary presence -- the CD also comes with bonus video that's playable on computers set up with Quicktime, of "Fernando" (which, oddly enough, is sung in English on the video and depicts the group members, all looking shockingly young at this late date, in a campfire and starlight setting). The sound is superb throughout, but the mixes are especially hot on "Ring Ring" and "La Reina del Baile" ("Dancing Queen"), with the bass especially out front and vivid like it's in the room with you. The audio portion of the CD, covering nearly an hour, ends with "Chiquita," and the "Fernando" video is easy to access through most computers. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi

Singles Collection 1972-82 Play

Yet another repackaging of the Swedish superstars' hits, Singles Collection 1972-82 is a lavish limited-edition package offering no less than 29 individual CDs, each containing the respective A and B sides of every ABBA single released during their decade at the top. Served up in an embossed tin can, it goes without saying that this opulent and expensive release is for diehards only -- classics like "Dancing Queen" and "Fernando" sound just as good on more economical retrospectives like Gold or the Thank You for the Music box set. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi
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