FRIDA: SOMETHING'S GOING ON (1982)
1) Tell Me It's Over; 2) I See Red; 3) I Got Something; 4) Strangers; 5) To Turn The Stone; 6) I Know There's Something Going On; 7) Threnody; 8) Baby Don't You Cry No More; 9) The Way You Do; 10) You Know What I Mean; 11) Here We'll Stay.
Because of all the casual stereotypes, Agnetha was always cast as the «dumb blonde» part of the female ABBA component where Frida was, if not exactly the «dark-haired intellectual», still sort of regarded as the brainier element of the two. To be fair, Agnetha did get most of the solo parts on ABBA's lyrically shallowest love ballads, while Frida, with her deeper voice, accordingly got the parts that tried to probe a little further, but still, that ain't really sufficient ground for proper discrimination — at best, it shows that Benny and Björn were in on the «dumb blonde» game as well, because even songwriting genius does not save one from stereotype attack.
Much more diagnostic would be the kind of situation where both dames were finally completely independent and had the freedom of asserting their own identities — Something's Going On came out approximately at the same time as Wrap Your Arms Around Me, and although both albums consisted almost entirely of covers (Agnetha, unlike Frida, did write a couple of her own, but there'd hardly be any difference if she didn't), the difference in tone was striking. Agnetha's performances were predominantly songs of passionate love and romance — Frida's were darker (like the hair!), concentrating much more on paranoia, breakup, loss, and only occasional consolation — romance as antidote against grief. Roughing it up, we have here the classic opposition between comedy and tragedy, where you can take your own pick.
It wasn't all Frida's own invention though. For her first post-ABBA solo album (like Agnetha, she had a few Swedish-only solo albums before and during ABBA), she teamed up with Phil Collins, being tremendously inspired and impressed with the freshly published Face Value — a record that was all about paranoia, breakup, and loss, and, incidentally, was also the first (and best) Phil Collins solo album, so somehow the two turned out to be sympathetic souls, and Phil not only produced Frida's record for her, but also contributed one of the songs and even sang with Frida on the closing duet. Touching!
Naturally, Phil's production style is not for everybody. We have here the same «gigantic» drum sound as on Face Value, much, though not all, of it programmed; and all the electronic keyboards / pop metal guitars / echoey effects on the vocals that were so trendy at the time — the ironic thing is, no matter how hard Frida tries to distance herself from her ABBA past here, in the end it all still sounds ABBA-esque, not just because of the familiar voice, but also because the assembled songs must have been subconsciously filtered. None of them were written by Benny or Björn, but just try to imagine how it all might have sounded without Phil in the producer's seat, and you will have yourself a smooth and natural transition from The Visitors to here. (Whereas with Wrap Your Arms Around Me, the transition would probably be from 1975's ABBA — ʽThe Heat Is Onʼ is kinda sorta the natural successor to ʽTropical Lovelandʼ, isn't it?.. on the other hand, it was Frida who sang ʽTropical Lovelandʼ... oh, never mind).
The big single was ʽI Know There's Something Going Onʼ (with you and her, not with the world today), written by Russ Ballard, who, as it turns out, was happy to serve both the red and the white queen at the same time (ʽCan't Shake Looseʼ, written for Agnetha, did not manage to have quite the same chart success, though). Behind its production gloss there is a genuinely ominous vibe, greatly added by Daryl Stuermer's acid guitar solo, although the song is still too repetitive and dependent on the endlessly looped chorus hook to be considered an atmospheric masterpiece — so, in an unpredictable contrasting move, I'd like to declare it melodically inferior to the non-hit, non-single ʽBaby Don't You Cry No Moreʼ, a nostalgic jazz-pop ditty contributed by Ballard's former colleague, Rod Argent in person. It may seem shallow in comparison, but it's got a luvverly piano melody, a cool vocal resolution, and it reminds you of Paul McCartney's ʽBaby's Requestʼ with extra vocal flourishes, so who's to complain?
Other highlights include: ʽI See Redʼ, a disturbingly introspective song written by Jim Rafferty — one year later, it would turn into a minor pop hit for the chart-hungry Clannad, whose version was a bit more creepy compared to this reggae-influenced recording, but Frida, too, is able to sense the paranoid potential of the song, and even the echo effect on the vocals, normally a bad thing for such an expressive singer, is in its perfect place, conveying insecurity and uncertainty; the opening pop-rocker ʽTell Me It's Overʼ, written by Stephen Bishop and as rousing as any average ABBA pop-rocker; and Per Gessle's melodisation of Dorothy Parker's ʽThrenodyʼ, very sweetly and lightly arranged — a tight beat supporting a largely acoustic melody, with mandolins and chimes and just a short sweet touch of the synth around the edges.
In fact, the only serious disappointment is that last duet with Phil — ʽHere We'll Stayʼ is, of all things, a Xanadu-tinged romantic disco number, with Frida being cast in the Olivia Newton-John part and the happy duo even making a run for the falsetto register during the climactic bits: at the very least, this is a fairly tacky ending that they came up with, in poor taste overall, not to mention seriously at odds with the general tone of the album. They did release it as a single, which is understandable (Frida and Phil, together for the first time!), but it didn't chart, so the effort was wasted and the reputation sullied (of course, now that many people are reevaluating that entire stylistics from a completely different angle, the whole thing may even seem stylish!). So you just might want to hit that stop button one track ahead of its time — or suffer the insufferable.
On the whole, though, this is a decent, sufficiently moody pop album, not pretending to any huge depth, but not too dumbed down, either. I cannot say for sure that Phil's production did Frida a lot of good — but what she obviously wanted was to make a «non-ABBA» album, so this decision can be respected. What really matters is that Anni-Frid's vocals are at the heart of each song — and, really, what else should one expect from an Anni-Frid solo album? Thumbs up.