1) As Good As New; 2) Voulez-Vous; 3) I Have A Dream; 4) Angel Eyes; 5) The King Has Lost His Crown; 6) Does Your Mother Know; 7) If It Wasn't For The Nights; 8) Chiquitita; 9) Lovers (Live A Little Longer); 10) Kisses Of Fire; 11*) Lovelight; 12*) Summer Night City.
As if ABBA needed yet one more proof of their being the least cool band on the planet, they finally hit disco at the exact same time that most cool people were starting to shrug it off. Before Saturday Night Fever, disco was a silly, but semi-hip trend that was really looked upon as just one more step in the evolution of R'n'B and funk; after Saturday Night Fever, it became the curse of all nations, and that was when ABBA jumped on the bandwagon.
The first sign of change to come was '
Me, I distinctly remember hating Voulez-Vous as the record that set a clear demarcating line between early, peak-level ABBA with their mixture of classical, progressive, and Europop influences, and late ABBA with stereotypical disco bass, rudimentary keyboard hooks, and a conscious attempt to sex-up their image — which works about as well as an attempt on the part of the Catholic church to canonize Madonna (Ciccone, that is) for charity and piousness. And for someone whose early affectuation with ABBA was primarily based on their image (more importantly, their music) in ABBA: The Movie, it is only understandable that Voulez-Vous will at first feel like a wholesale transfusion of an incompatible blood type.
On the other hand, there is no denying that, with The Album, the band's old style had reached a point where they were already unable to top themselves — logically, they should either have disbanded or reinvented themselves; and how, in 1979, could a pop band hunting for further chart success not reinvent itself around disco? Nohow. Disco dumbs down genius, it's true, but it is not a reason in itself to forsake genius, and besides, one cannot live on nothing but masterpieces.
It is also untrue that Voulez-Vous is that primitive musically. Some of its non-hits are just as interesting, at least from a technical point of view, as the band's non-disco legacy. For instance, 'Lovers (Live A Little Longer)', with its tricky time signatures and vocal counterpoints, is all but generic; it may even turn off a jaded ABBA fan or two for being so rough around the corners, but it is clear that Benny and Björn gave the song a good workover and made it intentionally experimental (in a relative ABBA way, of course) and confusing; 'acid disco', some call it — a sharp contrast with the clearly fillerish 'Kisses Of Fire', which, with its primitive, bland chorus, was probably just written at the last moment to round out the running time.
The hooks also run strong on the hits — the title track, one of the darkest, bitterest numbers they ever did, which probably explains why it hit No. 80 on the Billboard; and 'Does Your Mother Know', one of the tritest, silliest numbers they ever did, which probably explains why it hit No. 19 on the Billboard. Did Björn really need to lecture his audience on the dangers of fan worshipping and sex with minors? I am sure he must have received quite a few offers from 12-year olds, but it is highly unlikely that a song like 'Does Your Mother Know' could have fulfilled the purpose of stopping them. In fact, it was probably the opposite, as you can easily see by watching the video of the Wembley concert where he is singing the words right in front of an audience of 12-year olds... and they're loving it.
Apart from that, the record is not all disco; the songs generally lack the production lushness of The Album, featuring fewer overdubs and less orchestration, which is why it gives the overall impression of a "club record", but certainly the anthemic 'I Have A Dream' (Frida at her best, although I am hardly a fan of such choral pomposity), the folksy 'Chiquitita', and the fast-tempo pop rocker 'Angel Eyes' have nothing to do with disco, nor does the overlooked mini-gem 'The King Has Lost Crown'. Most of them do seem a little repetitive and "economical" in terms of musical ideas compared to past successes, though. Perhaps the band members just had to spend more time sorting out their own personal problems (Björn and Agnetha, in particular, were getting divorced), and this left fewer precious moments to embed in more distinct middle eights.
Voulez-Vous is, by all means, a letdown. But unless you just cannot stomach disco at all, there is no reason to think of it as a catastrophe; rather a slightly disappointing, but arguably inevitable reinvention. Most of the tunes still range from endearing to likeable (sure I hate the gist of 'Mother', but can I resist that big fat chg-chg-chg-chg-chg-chg-chg that opens it? Not on your life!), and on the strength of that the heart wrenches out a thumbs up, while the brain is still able to appreciate the clever intricacies of 'Lovers', 'Voulez-Vous' and some of the rest.