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Thursday, November 19, 2009

ABBA: Super Trouper


1) Super Trouper; 2) The Winner Takes It All; 3) On And On And On; 4) Andante, Andante; 5) Me And I; 6) Happy New Year; 7) Our Last Summer; 8) The Piper; 9) Lay All Your Love On Me; 10) The Way Old Friends Do; 11*) Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight); 12*) Elaine; 13*) Put On Your White Sombrero.

ABBA reached their disco peak not on Voulez-Vous, but with 'Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)', a monstrous hit released in October 1979 and still remembered fondly, as evidenced by Madonna's blatant sampling of its main riff for her incomparably weak 'Hung Up' single twenty six years later. The song gives us ABBA doing their absolute immaculate best to sound their absolute immaculate worst — the hookline is as utterly dumb as it is unforgettable, the chorus as thoroughly robotic as it is danceable. And the key question remains unanswered: why is it so that Agnetha Faltskog needs someone specifically after midnight? Surely this cannot mean... oh my God...

There is still some straightahead disco on Super Trouper, the last of the band's commercially stellar records, but most of its upbeat numbers lead into new areas of dance-pop, replacing disco bass with less funky, more electronic-style grooves. They have changed their style — again — not necessarily for the best, since they seemed more humane and lovable when the sound was a bit more loose, with acoustic guitars and shuffling beats rather than synth-and-metronome-packed creations like 'Super Trouper'. But this is not to say that they lost any of their creativity — they simply may have sacrificed a little bit of it, to fit in with the worsening times.

What's interesting about Super Trouper is its emotional tug of war. By now, the days of shiny happy pappy (such as the band experienced around 1974-75) are long gone, and, with the band members' personal lives in complete disarray, the soap opera is perfectly well reflected on disc. Yet, as commercial craftsmen, they are also well aware that the buying public will never want their ABBA spouting nothing but depression, and the scathing bitterness is so seriously mixed up with "fun and joy" that only Benny and Björn's seemingly endless stream of great melodies saves the record from utter confusion.

Case in point: not everyone would dare to place the album's most optimistically resplendent num­ber — the Frida-led title track — back-to-back with its gloomiest opus, the Agnetha-led 'Winner Takes It All', all about you-know-what. The former is instantly memorable, major key, light, an­gel-style with its brilliantly arranged vocal parts; the latter is «faux-minor» (major, but still with a «gloomy» tinge to it), dark romantic, winding up high with a plea for help rather than out of an overwhelming feeling of joy. But both work equally well, despite the relative melodic simplicity of each.

The biggest disco leftover is even darker than 'Voulez-Vous': 'Lay All Your Love On Me' is 'S.O.S.' for the new generation, transmitting its panicky atmosphere through metronomic dance beats and electronically-altered down-crashing vocals at the end of each verse rather than more, shall we say it, "classical" means; but, again, it works. A whole album of tunes like that one might have been unbearable, but to see it jammed in between the folk stylization of 'The Piper' and the anthemic closer 'The Way Old Friends Do' is quite acceptable.

The biggest laugh is also unforgettable: 'On And On And On' shamelessly steals its major key­board and vocal hook from the Beach Boys' 'Do It Again', but if the latter, when it came out in 1969, was utterly nostalgic, an almost desperate calling out to the happy carefree days of yore, 'On And On And On' transforms it into something totally futuristic, announcing a new age of dance-pop rather than yearning for a past age of it. Still, the overall message is about as light­weight as it always used to be: 'Keep on rocking baby till the night is gone, on and on and on'.

But if you still prefer to do it like they used in the old times, right after 'On And On And On' you get 'Andante, Andante' — for all we know, this is basically the same meaning and the same mes­sage, except you get in an old-fashioned waltz atmosphere (well, it's not waltz technically, but it gets you waltzing all the same), with just a few gracious electric guitar licks to give it a new shiny coat. It's as stately and refined as 'On And On And On' is reckless. You let your hair down, then you pick it back up. That's the way life goes.

All in all, this is quite an exciting journey of an album. Yes, it is somewhat colder and more de­void of living instruments and their quirky behaviour than I'd like it to be, but it compensates for that with more maturity (there are even some lyrical passages that are not half-bad!) and even more diversity than is usual for these guys, and for that, I'd have to consider it their finest moment in the late, post-1977 stages of their career. Thumbs up from every beat of my heart and every impulse of my brain.

1 comment:

  1. Okay. Back to darkish, but still with some happiness left. This is where Bjorn & Agnetha's marriage took a turn for the worst, I believe, and it is obvious through the album. Take the pretty "The Winner Takes It All" (and it's funny when Agnetha says "loser"), the pretty much unmemorable "Our Last Summer", and the wonderful "Happy New Year". However, the happiness is still there in the rest of the tracks. Okay, so "Lay All Your Love On Me" is dark-sounding, but it isn't a dark song (and I really like those vocal effects at the end of the verses). And the rest are okay-to-good. But seeing as there really is only one great song on here ("Happy New Year") I would say that ABBA have definitely deteriorated.