ABBA Gold (Polydor ’92) Rating: A
Arguably the whitest band in pop history, the pure pop of ABBA has remained surprisingly durable. A typical ABBA classic contained a synthetic dance beat, cheesy keyboards, and the swooning vocal harmonies of Ana-Frid “Frida” Lyngstad and Agnetha Faltskog. Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus provided the irresistibly catchy songwriting, as anyone who has seen the swarm of people running to the dance floor upon the immediately recognizable first bars of “Dancing Queen” can attest. Though the band specialized in bubblegum pop music, their often-exotic music was more adventurous than they're generally given credit for, and their lyrics told a less cheery story on songs such as “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” “Lay All Your Love On Me,” “S.O.S.,” “One Of Us,” and “The Winner Takes It All.” These tracks obviously hit close to home, as ABBA was comprised of two couples that married and then divorced during the group’s tenure. In truth, I have to be in the mood for the band’s at times cartoonish brand of theatrical pop, as the kitsch factor is sometimes too high on silly songs such as "Money, Money, Money" and "Does Your Mother Know." However, when the mood does strike me I find them completely addictive. Though ABBA had some success in the U.S., they dominated the charts elsewhere from 1974-1982, especially in the U.K. where they had an astounding 13 Top 5 singles. Critically dismissed during their time, the ‘90s saw a resurgence of interest in the band and grudging critical respect, helped by an Erasure EP of ABBA covers and lofty praise from the likes of Kurt Cobain, who often listened to the band on the Nirvana tour bus. And though not all of these 19 tracks (clocking in at a very generous 77 minutes) are gold, most glitter with a delightfully catchy and a surprisingly sophisticated pop sheen. My personal favorites include "Dancing Queen," "Knowing Me, Knowing You," "Take A Chance on Me," "Mama Mia," "Lay All Your Love On Me," "Super Trouper" (the first six songs are largely unassailable), "S.O.S.," "Fernando," and "Waterloo," many of which appear in Mama Mia, a successful Broadway play built around ABBA's songs. I suppose that some sort of play was inevitable given the show tune-y nature of many of these songs, which makes them tailor made for the stage, but what's completely shocking is how ABBA, once the very definition of “unhip,” are now considered almost cool.

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