ABBA: The Album – (RCA)

By Anthony O’Grady - RAM 24 February 1978

The thing about ABBA is they seem genuinely innocent. ABBA-The Album sees them poised to mop up the whole western world with their brand of pop angelus. Here’s the current scorecard. Pre-ordained success in Australia, England and the continent, guaranteed wide airplay in the United States.>

Maybe this will be the one to crack the U.S. for them – bringing in those millions upon millions of sales units that, added to sales from the rest of the world, will make the foursome (fivesome including ever-present manager Stig Anderson) the best selling (and, presumably, best-loved) musical group in the world. Bigger than Fleeetwood Mac, Peter Frampton, bigger than The Beatles, than Elvis…ABBA supreme…in 1976, 1977....

And yes, they want it. Their game plan has been widely pre-publicised in sundry interviews and the world running up and down the marketing corridors in RCA and CBS (their U.S. company) is that this time the group is going for the big one.

And in the current supermarket special method of retailing records, they could even do it. After all, what’s the difference between a Fleetwood Mac album and a can of deodorant. Nothing really, they just both lie around the house, an assurance to visitors you’ve got clean tastes. So what’s the difference between Fleetwood Mac and ABBA? One gets togged up in funky Californian chic and the other appear on stage in fantasia space travellers’ gear – all metallic-thread glittering cloaks and shiny, pristine leather boots.

And melody is melody is forever bankable. As ABBA themselves say in Thank You For The Music, (“I have a talent / a wonderful thing / ’cause everyone listens / when I start to sing”). Good observation, group – whenever an ABBA song wafts across the ozone you may hate it, but damn if you don’t remember the melody forever. It’s their clever way of sticking in a hook-line about 20 times a song.

And yet, they’re innocents abroad really – very conscious of their stylistic debts to English and American pop originators, seemingly in awe of people they regard as the big boys. Eagle for instance seems to be not only about the wide-winged bird, it’s about the group – (“I’m under their spell / I love hearing the stories / that they tell”).

And Take A Chance On Me, (“If you change your mind / I’m the first in line”) is maybe a love-hurts song but its also fairly indicative of ABBA’s attitude to pop domination – they want it, but they’re not gonna be grabby for godsake, they’ll politely wait their turn.

Similarly, their reaction to audience hysteria and the sort of media siege they were subjected to on their Oz tour is summed up by I’m A Marionette (“Just a little smile / that’s what they say / You’ll look better on the photograph”). Pretty subservient stuff. Consider how John Lennon in his early Beatles era reacted to the same pressures with sardonic anger, Revolution, and deliberate gobbledegook I Am The Walrus. So you wonder, what chance ABBA?

After all, in Thank You For The Music they admit (“I’m a bit of a bore”) but (“thank you for the music / I’ve been so lucky”).

ABBA-The Album shows them making strenuous efforts to branch away from simple failsafe hook-lines (as in Mamma Mia) into more sophisticated hip easy listening. Some songs are lengthy work-outs (over eight minutes yet!) and there’s even a mini-musical (Yeah, a concept!)

But while the melodies are mostly sublime, the rhythm section does them in nearly every time. Y’see ABBA are tied to an ever repetitious drum/bass guitar time called Euro-beat.

It doesn’t matter that they sometimes use a funky black drummer (at least they did on stage on their Oz tour) every beat in every song click-clocks like a metronome from start to finish. No fancy drum fills or off-beats, no freedom for the bass-line. The result is a steady bottom end, but it’s like trying to rock inside a straight-jacket. Listen to the rhythm section on Hole In Your Soul – their stab at a shrill, hard rock song. The vocals and arrangements are there but down below there’s another sterile repetitious beat, and for anyone who’s ever rocked, its like molasses being poured into your dancing shoes. Ugh 

Fleetwood Mac and Peter Frampton don’t have anything like ABBA’s finesse at orchestrating and top dressing melodies, (The Name Of The Game and I’m A Marionette are arguably two of the best-arranged pieces of pop released in the 1970s), but they do have cojunes down bellow, and that’s where ABBA still miss out.

The kids and parents of Australia haven’t minded that yet. But so what? Ozzies are notorious for not being able to clap in time. So obviously ABBA still can’t miss here. But in the U.S. supermarket culchure? Hmmmmmmmmmm.

© 1978 RAM. Thanks to Samuel Inglles