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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Agnetha Fältskog: My Colouring Book


1) My Colouring Book; 2) When You Walk In The Room; 3) If I Thought You'd Ever Change Your Mind; 4) Sealed With A Kiss; 5) Love Me With All Your Heart; 6) Fly Me To The Moon; 7) Past, Present And Future; 8) A Fool Am I; 9) I Can't Reach Your Heart; 10) Sometimes When I'm Dreaming; 11) The End Of The World; 12) Remember Me; 13) What Now My Love.

Maybe Agnetha's decision to break the seal and come out of her retirement was somehow con­nected to the big «ABBA revival», culminating in the stylistically atrocious, but commercially successful Mamma Mia! musical, along with other things. Maybe it wasn't, and she just felt like singing. In any case, nobody's expectations should be expected to run too high for a 21st century Agnetha album — but I also think that, to some extent, an album like this could be predictable: a nostalgia trip back to the singer's roots, consisting exclusively of covers of 1960s pop songs. And when I say «pop», I mean pop: Barbra Streisand, Jackie DeShannon, Cilla Black, Shirley Bassey, that sort of thing. «Girl stuff». Sappy sentimental ballads. Just the kind of stuff you'd obviously expect a teenage girl to be growing up with in the early 1960s.

Except for ʽWhen You Walk In The Roomʼ, which was always a great, upbeat, catchy pop song, regardless of who was doing it, I have little love for most of these tunes in their original incarna­tions — a «genrist bias» I have never really felt the need to be ashamed of: too much mush, not enough backbone (something that ABBA themselves used to remedy very well, which is why I'll always hold their music over, let's say, The Carpenters). However, a «pop standard», if it is estab­lished well enough, may shift its substance over time, and on albums like these, they are treated like cherished institutions: My Colouring Book is not really a record about sap and sentiment, but rather a gallant display of reverence towards the people and the sounds that influenced the current artist. From that point of view, I am actually more thrilled (if you could call it that) to hear Agnetha cover Cilla Black's ʽIf I Thought You'd Ever Change Your Mindʼ than listen to Cilla Black's original — after all, Cilla Black just wanted to be a star and have a hit, but Agnetha, with this cover, wants to thank Cilla Black for brightening up her day in 1969, and that, to me, seems like a way cooler type of emotion.

Of course, you could technically say that any time about any artist covering any other artist, but the advantage of My Colouring Book is that Agnetha really loves this stuff, and is very clearly doing this not for the money or because «somebody asked her to». She was never a great singer (in terms of individuality, at least), but she approaches this material in just the right way: re­strained, but tremendously expressive within the limits of that restraint, and considering that her vocal power has remained amazingly well preserved (at 54, her voice has deepened only slightly, retaining most of its range and power), it is safe to say that this is one of the best-performed re­cords in her career.

Production-wise, this is «retro» through and through: lots of strings, and mostly acoustic backing all the rest of the way (guitars, pianos, brass, drumming — there is a loud electric guitar part on ʽWhen You Walk In The Roomʼ, which is required, but strings and pianos normally dominate); again, compared with the average standard of 2004 this is almost «stylish», and, in any case, a much better proposition than getting her to «modernize» things, which might have turned into a much bigger disaster than the production on I Stand Alone.

Because of the «setlist», I cannot properly afford a thumbs up rating for this album: there is only so much shallow, overblown orchestrated sentimentality I can take per one sitting, and even if I somewhat admire the purpose of the record, it is not likely that I will ever listen to it again, nor can I actively recommend it to anybody who is not as much of a «lush pop buff» as Agnetha is. But one thing, however, I can say: all those people complaining about how those ABBA girls «had no soul» on those ABBA albums, and were merely technically going through the motions, unable to express or convey genuine emotion with their plastic deliveries, can take a hike — or, rather, should be forced to listen to My Colouring Book, lie through their teeth about it, and then take a hike. In particular, no «plastic soul person» should probably have picked out the Shangri-Las' ʽPast, Present And Futureʼ as one of her choices — a song that wasn't even a big hit, but was probably the coolest exploitation of Beethoven ever to express basic teenage emotion, and must have struck Agnetha senseless even way back when.

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