AGNETHA FÄLTSKOG: A (2013)
1) The One Who Loves You Now; 2) When You Really Loved Someone; 3) Perfume In The Breeze; 4) I Was A Flower; 5) I Should've Followed You Home; 6) Past Forever; 7) Dance Your Pain Away; 8) Bubble; 9) Back On Your Radio; 10) I Keep Them On The Floor Beside My Bed.
Although this record was heavily advertised as «Agnetha's first collection of original material in a quarter of a century!», I would urge even diehard ABBA fans not to get too excited, and take this information with a bag of salt. Sure, it is somewhat nice to see the lady still going strong (on the surface at least) — she looks healthy on the album cover (Photoshop?), she sounds pretty on the songs (Autotune?), and she is engaged in various promotional activities — live shows, interviews, documentaries — that prove she still got energy (stimulants?).
But there is a serious downside: the songs. These songs are not ABBA (not being penned by Benny or Björn), not typical early Agnetha solo (not being selected «by tender» from a bunch of respectable songwriters competing with each other), and they are not Colouring Book-style grateful nostalgia. Instead, the album has been written in its entirety, as well as produced, by Jörgen Eloffson, the guy best known for writing the first hit single for Kelly Clarkson, and prior to that, the co-author of quite a few songs on Britney Spears' first album; as far as I can understand, he has a tight association with American Idol, Pop Idol, and all those people.
Friend or no friend, I have no idea why Agnetha consented to let this guy flood her with his compositions. The album's chief influences are bubblegum pop, boy bands, and diva balladry, with the songs more or less evenly distributed between these three categories — there is also a «retro» category, though, represented this time by ʽDance Your Pain Awayʼ, a credible stylization in classic disco that could even be enjoyable if not for the synthesizers, which have infiltrated the song from the modern technopop era. ʽBack On The Radioʼ is somewhat retro as well, I guess, and inevitably brings to mind ʽThat's Why God Made The Radioʼ — the Beach Boys' creative fiasco from the previous year. But this one's worse, because instead of classic Beach Boys harmonies you get a transparently autotuned delivery. Intentionally autotuned, I'd say, as when you use Autotune not to correct vocal weaknesses, but as a symbolic artistic statement — «well, it's a song about the radio, we gotta have a little interference in there». It's still ugly.
Trying to seek out «niceties» on this album would immediately turn this review into a condescending one, so I am not even going to try — instead, we should probably show our respect to the artist by harshly stating that A is a bunch of crap, and that, no matter how hard she tries (and I don't think she tries hard enough), her generally well-preserved, and still largely beautiful, voice cannot redeem this shallow, by-the-book material. It's better than the Britney Spears songs, I'll give you that, but not by much — certainly not in the production department, which is exactly the same, coating a boring acoustic guitar / piano skeleton with a tasteless mixture of electronic percussion, synths, and strings. Its emotional palette is completely predictable, and so are its hooks.
In short, I have nothing against Agnetha slipping into soft, slow, nostalgic «granny mode» — given her age, this would only be natural — but it is the most ridiculous thing in the world to let your «granny mode» be controlled by the guy who makes a living writing for American Idol. As far as I know, Jeff Lynne, Russ Ballard, and Justin Hayward are still living — and maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea, either, to finally acknowledge Elvis Costello and his burning desire to make himself useful to an ABBA member. I mean, the possibilities are really endless, so what the hell?.. Thumbs down, and here's hoping Lady A lives and thrives long enough to get the message. At least, as of 2013, she can still sing, and feel, and think, but she sure as hell doesn't keep herself good company.