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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Agnetha Fältskog: I Stand Alone

AGNETHA FÄLTSKOG: I STAND ALONE (1987)

1) The Last Time; 2) Little White Secrets; 3) I Wasn't The One (Who Said Goodbye); 4) Love In A World Gone Mad; 5) Maybe It Was Magic; 6) Let It Shine; 7) We Got A Way; 8) I Stand Alone; 9) Are You Gonna Throw It All Away; 10) If You Need Somebody Tonight.

A properly laconic review of this album would only need to state three things. One: Look at that new hairstyle. Two: Produced by Peter Cetera of Chicago fame, the author of ʽIf You Leave Me Nowʼ. Three: Two of the songs are co-credited to Diane Warren. Now multiply these three, cal­culate the cheese factor, and pre-draw your own pre-conclusions.

On the other hand, this laconicity would be just a tad too cruel. Although it is true that the title of the album is fairly stupid — it would be far more interesting if Agnetha actually dared to stay alone, rather than in the company of Pete Cetera, Diane Warren, and her latest hairdresser — it is also true that all of this album could have been very easily dedicated to lethargic adult contem­porary and embarrassing power ballads. Fortunately, coming from an ABBA background and all, Agnetha is so used to pop hooks and so not used to the generic power ballad format, that even Diane Warren cannot spoil things too bad: those last two songs, although I'd rather have her save them for Celine Dion, are formulaically romantic, but never try to go for that «storm in a teacup» approach that Warren's power ballads usually surmise — flat and forgettable, but not sickeningly exaggerated.

Furthermore, if we close our eyes on Cetera's soft-rock / synth-pop production, there is a small bunch of friendly, catchy, inoffensive pop songs here: ʽLet It Shineʼ, written in the old tradition of Carole King and Christine McVie, is arguably the best (but I'd so much rather see it produced by the likes of Lindsey Buckingham — then again, not in 1987, I guess, remember Tango In The Night?), but ʽLove In A World Gone Madʼ is also salvageable; curiously, its lyrics were written by Pete Seinfeld of King Crimson fame, who had apparently sold out in the 1980s and switched from "the rusted chains of prison moons are shattered by the sun" to "love in a world gone mad, the best thing we'll ever have, it's so precious what's between us two". Then again, why should poets be any different from musicians when it comes to survival?

ʽThe Last Timeʼ, ʽLittle White Secretsʼ, and ʽWe Got A Wayʼ are all decent pop songs as well, with fairly strong choruses, but always suffering from the «Eighties' bane» — faceless, stillborn production, with sterile keyboards and processed guitars (one interesting aspect, though, is that there are no drum machines, and relatively few drum parts suffer from electronic enhancement). And, no getting away from it, they are regularly interspersed with too overtly dramaticized, wishy-washy ballads, including a particularly disgusting bombastic duet with Cetera (ʽI Wasn't The Oneʼ) and songs with titles like ʽMaybe It Was Magicʼ that are unjustly deprived of ironic subtitles (ʽBut, Most Likely, It Was Just Crapʼ or something like that).

Nevertheless, even if the record still gets a thumbs down (it must take real magic for an LP to earn a «thumbs up» rating if it has Diane Warren on it), I must stress that it is not the proper epi­tome of a real bad mainstream 1980s pop record, and that my original expectations were set lower than that: in particular, I was not expecting any upbeat, traditionalistic power-pop cuts here, but there they are, supporting our faith in the overall decent taste of the ABBA crew. And, for what it's worth, I also have to add that Agnetha's singing is always lovely, properly restrained, and never overdone even on the worst songs here.

What is even more interesting is that, apparently, Agnetha was rather reluctant to record the album (apparently, Cetera had to press really hard to convince her to fly out to California and do it), and, once it came out, refused to engage in any promotional activities and went into a 14-year period of retire­ment from an active music career — a respectable decision if there ever was one. All of which gives us complete freedom of choice: we can take the album if we are Eighties buffs and like it, or we can pretend it never happened because somebody just didn't have the proper strength to say no at a certain point in time, or happened to be in need of a California vacation.

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