Right – so ABBA is like Quantum Marmite. There exist those who love them, those who hate them and those who seem to love and hate them in a superposition of calling them a guilty pleasure. (Physicists please don’t attack the analogy, I’m just searching for a bit of wordplay.) Irrespective of your feelings, ABBA represented this sudden blast in the pop music of the 70’s after the Eurovision win with Waterloo.
It actually took a couple of albums (this being their fourth) before the group hit the stride of memorable hits – in fact – searching the back catalogue just confirms that there a bunch of forgotten tracks in the early days. Arrival is aptly named as it represents the beginning of the serious main stream pop act rather than the long take off stage.
You hear the opening echoey acoustic guitar with the two female vocalists both singing the melody vocal line in When I kissed The Teacher. The melody isn’t particularly interesting musically but the ABBA nail the one thing they always do; it’s catchy. For better or worse, ABBA songs are ear worms and the act of merely listing track titles may be enough to have the song echoing round the head for the rest of the day. Although the track hasn’t gone down in ABBA’s globally recognised roster, it still uses the interesting chord descending layered harmonies, which define the group.
With the progression into the next song we see their possibly best known hit Dancing Queen… I have finally figured it out. Everything about the song is catchy. The melody infinitely recognisable, the iconic chorus, the signature piano tones and overall the fact that it’s just ridiculously upbeat pop. There is no denying the formula is spot on and it represents all things cheery. Don’t get me wrong of course, it may even be too bubblegum even to feature in a Disney movie, or any movie with a hint of actual seriousness. This is why it features so prominently in that movie where Meryl Streep leads masses of elderly Greek island women in skipping to the coast to participate in a piece of mass choreography. The cynic in me wonders how many dropped on the way.
Progressing we do see some downsides. With some knowledge of ABBA choruses I kept waiting for continuing songs to break into choruses I knew, for example My Love, My Life frankly wants to burst into Fernando at any moment. (Move on if you’re not as familiar with the source material. As for Knowing Me, Knowing You… well most know it and I constantly got told “I can never hear that song without thinking of Alan Partridge”, rather amusing how much that came up.
Another classic with Money, Money, Money and it’s once again ingrained into popular culture that everyone knows it, possibly from a commercial advertising a consolidating loan. I think I’m being fair; the writing is so good that you can guarantee a memorable hit. I can’t keep reiterating where it’s catchy but I can say that if you staple it to anything, it will stick with people.
Personally, I really love That’s Me, with a lovely chord progression in the verse and the Eurovision style key-changes that never left the group – corny in its own way but a mastery of modulation. Then the miss the mark for me… Why Did It Have To Be Me is a simple blues riff that still has the same talent but falls into the pot of generic, almost filler material. It’s just not a good fit.
Indulge me for a second. Tiger repeats the line:
I am the Tiger
but just put it on and imagine that in the place of Eye of the Tiger, in a Rocky training montage. Have you done that? Good.
The album correctly bows out with a simple instrumental track, Arrival that very much functions as a signature. Yes there are vocals but just the use of “Ah” makes it an instrumental. It’s a sign off as the album is done and the new wave of ABBA is here.
I’ll quickly say that the opening of Fernando sounds a bit like the Pogues’ christmas song… then it just bursts into the well known chorus. Still catchy!
Personally I do like ABBA and I think there was a lot of talent in the group although occasionally there was a lack of expression in the vocals and the songs a tad formulaic. It’s also really pretty catchy, accepting and if you say there is no talent, you are emphatically wrong.
Is this album for you?
…It’s ABBA… You know the answer…
- Writing: 9.5/10 (If you disagree then come up with a formula that makes as many zingers yourself)
- Performance: 8/10
- Style: 9/10