Over the last 30 years Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus have never wavered from the party-line that Abba will never reform. Connoisseurs of ace pop music the world over have reluctantly accepted that the Swedish hit making machine have hung up their sparkly jump suits for good.
The roles of Agnetha Faltskog and Anni-Frid Lynstad in the quartet have probably been unfairly minimised over the years. As the voices of Abba
Agnetha and Freda had a range of three octaves between them and were given all sorts of complicated vocal parts to sing by Benny and Bjorn in what wasn’t their first language.
A is the first album in ten years and the first that isn’t a set of covers in more than twice that from the youngest member of Abba Agnetha Faltskog. Agnetha-the quiet one, the “recluse”, the ex-member seldom seen in public-has done the seemingly impossible; She’s made an Abba album without the other three. Most of the songs on A would very easily fit into one of the classic albums like Voulez Vous, The Visitors or Super Trouper. Listen to the arrangements, the songs, Agnetha’s timeless vocals-particularly the layered harmonies on numbers like Back On Your Radio and it’s difficult not to imagine Freda standing next to her singing along. She isn’t-no other former Abba member is involved in A.
The album is written and produced by fellow Swedes Jorgen Elofsson and Peter Nordahl who’ve worked with Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson, Leona Lewis and many others. Sometimes it does sound a bit like Eurovision, but the top grade, first class Eurovison that Abba themselves invented.
Orchestrations are lush and inventive with lots going on that’s never allowed to swamp the songs. What sounds like a harmonium on The One Who Loves You Now and a glockenspeil on Back On Your Radio are pure George Martin grafted onto superbly crafted slices of Swedish pop.
When Abba produced disco they popped it up and added the missing ingredient of real songs. A’s Dance Your Pain Away is a salute back to Abba’s dance period with its’ repetitive lyrics, Voulez Vous bass line and floor-filler tempo.
One song on A is co-written by Agnetha herself. She started as a singer songwriter and was the first member of Abba to write a number 1 with Jag Var Sa Kar in Sweden in January 1968. She says that the rest of Abba tried to persuade her to write for the band but she preferred to let the hit-writing machine of Andersson and Ulvaeus get on with it. Encouraged by Nordahl, Faltskog sat down at the piano and for the first time in years wrote a song. A’s I Keep Them On A Floor By My Bed-complete with Imagine style piano intro and Lennon esque telephone line vocal section-is the best song on the album.
Part of the appeal of the Abba records was Frida and Agnetha’s distinctive delivery. On I Keep Them On The Floor By My Bed the “them” Agnetha is referring to are “pictures (of me and you)” which she endearingly sings as “peectures”.
Agnetha has said that her favourite Abba song is One Of Us so it’s perhaps no suprise that Elofsson and Nordahl have crafted her several sad ballads. Bubble starts quietly with Faltskog singing over a subdued introduction, as does the tear-jerking Past Forever. Layered vocals are used to good effect again to pull every ounce of emotion out of these reflective songs of lost love.
I Should Have Followed You Home is a duet with Gary Barlow. The relentlessly powerful production rockets the song along and although there’s better numbers on the album Mr Grumpy’s profile would be almost certain to make this a major hit single. When You Really Loved Someone takes full advantage of Nordahl’s arranging skills with full orchestra mixed together with contemporary keyboards sounds.
Quality European pop from beginning to end. The solo Beatles never produced anything as consistent with the parent band as Agnetha has done with A.