ABBA: Arrival (Epic)

ABBA: Frida Lyngstad and Anna Faltskog (vocals), Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus (guitars, keyboards, backing vocals) with Ola Brunkert and Roger Palm (drums), Janne Schaffer, Anders Glenmark and Lasse Wellander (guitars), Lasse Carlsson (sax). Recorded at the Metronome Studio, Stockholm during this year. Arranged and produced by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus.

THERE IS NO doubt that Abba are the classiest pop outfit around Europe at the moment. Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson write snappy commercial tunes. Abba, and, in particular, the vocalists, Frida and Anna, strengthen the identity with tight vocal interpretations, backed by a cool continental instrumental sound.

That is the base from which Abba operate, rarely venturing outside strictly defined terms of reference. A toe-tapping tune, a simple, sing-a-long lyric. Short and direct That is the Abba sound. That is Arrival.

Ironically, although the album is initially impressive by its forthright and innocent out-and-out pop, after a while the clinical aspect of the construction of an Abba song becomes increasingly annoying.

I’ve had this album for a few weeks and played it a lot. It’s only now, after my sixth or seventh listen, that the coldness of the structure is beginning to rub me the wrong way. There are 10 tracks on this album. The longest is 4 minutes 20 seconds, the shortest 2.53. The first side is 16.77 long and the second 14.95. Consider that the ideal length, for the best sound quality, is around 18 minutes, and you wonder whether Abba have freaked and cut the playing time drastically in an effort to go for the perfect recorded sound, or, as is more likely, the sum total of a year’s writing from the group’s writers was a mere 32 minutes of song, which can hardly be described as prolific.

Despite those reservations, it is an album that epitomises the Abba phenomenon, the first set showcasing the Eurovision victory with ‘Waterloo’ a couple of years ago and then the string of hit singles, ‘Mamma Mia’, ‘SOS’, ‘Fernando’ and the others. Excellent singles those, all of them on the Greatest Hits album which has been in the MM albums’ chart for something near a year now.

Whether or not Ulvaeus and Andersson insist that they do not work to a formula, Arrival has joined its compilation predecessor in the top ten because they stick close to the proven mixture.

It’s obvious that the major ingredient is the melody. The lyrics, which border between the naive and bland (‘Dum Dum Diddle’ joins ‘Mamma Mia’ in the corniest words of all time stakes) are of secondary importance to Abba, probably because they haven’t mastered the finer arts of the English language in song. It’s down to the tune and the nuance of the distinctive vocals to carry the message.

Most of the songs are standard Abba stuff, and consistently good at that. ‘Dancing Queen’ was a hit single and I’m sure other tracks will keep Abba in those charts for the next year, principally ‘Knowing Me Knowing You’, ‘Tiger’, ‘That’s Me’ and possibly ‘Why Did It Have To Be Me’, on which the band uncharacteristically rock a little. ‘Money, Money, Money’, which sounds as if it should be one of the songs in Fiddler On The Roof, is the current hit.

But the best track of all for me is the beautiful ‘My Love, My Life’, which would have been an ideal Christmas single, full of sentimentality and soppiness. The title track, an instrumental, is the most continental-sounding of all, drawing from the band’s Scandinavian roots.

An ideal Christmas present for mums, dads, aunts, uncles, son, daughters, nephews, nieces. But who said “once more with feeling”?

© Harry DohertyMelody Maker, 4 December 1976

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