Posts Tagged ‘1981’

The Visitors

5 February, 2012

The release of The Visitors in late 1981 took me completely by surprise. Though I’d read news of the progress of recording sessions in the Australian ABBA Fan Club magazines during the year, I had no idea that ABBA had a new album coming out until I heard an ad on a local radio station during the first week of December promoting a competition giving away copies the following week.

That Saturday morning the music show Sounds showed the album cover, which confused me – I could see Agnetha to the left and Frida in a chair, and what looked like Benny standing a little to the right (well, it was a man with a beard), but where was Björn?

The following night Australia’s famous music show Countdown played the promotional clip for ‘When All Is Said And Done’, but otherwise made no mention of a new ABBA album. As the summer holidays were coming up, that weekend saw the last shows for the year for both Sounds and Countdown, so there was no real opportunity for TV promotion for ABBA’s new album. Countdown did play ‘One Of Us’ on its first show for 1982, by which time it was too late for that single, which had already peaked at 48 and was on its way back down the singles chart. Sounds eventually played ‘Head Over Heels’, which was not released as a single in Australia.

Ironically, the radio station giving away copies of  The Visitors did not play any songs from the album, or any ABBA music at all, except for the first line of ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ in the competition ad. Nor did the ad actually mention the album title.

And so came the usual waiting game for the album to appear. As ABBA were no longer the big thing in Australia that they were in 1976, there didn’t seem to be much rush to get new ABBA records in the shops, and it wasn’t until Wednesday December 16th (yes, Benny’s birthday) that I finally got The Visitors.

In Australia The Visitors came in a gatefold sleeve, with the lyrics on the inside, which seemed like a waste to me – why not more photos, as other gatefold sleeve albums had? I later learned that in most other countries the lyrics were on an inner sleeve. I loved the imagery, but was pissed off that the ABBA members, who seemed to be getting smaller on each progressive album cover, were hard to discern. So Björn  now had a beard, and Benny was in the dark corner on the far right, but was Frida’s hair cut short? It was hard to tell.

On first listen I was mightily impressed. ABBA’s music always seemed to exist outside of mainstream music trends, but here was ABBA sounding like those British synthpop groups so popular at the time. Especially the opening title track, which has been described over the years as having a melody that sounded reminiscent of The Beatles Eastern musical excursions, but to my ears sounded like ‘Astradyne’, the opening track to Ultravox’s 1980 album Vienna, with the chorus that sounded like ‘Summer Night City’.

I also loved that ABBA’s lyrics had become more meaningful – the dissident paranoia of ‘The Visitors’, fears of dictators leading the populace into war in ‘Soldiers’, and the bittersweet experience of watching children grow up  and leave in ‘Slipping Through My Finger’  were immediately obvious to me. The heartbreak of ‘When All Is Said And Done’ was more inspirational than the previous year’s melodramatic ‘The Winner Takes It All’, and its personal inspirations were also obvious. ‘I Let The Music Speak’ addressed the poetry of music in clever twists and turns. ‘Two For The Price Of One’ was a little throwback to the quirky songs of ABBA’s first couple of albums, but unlike almost everyone else in the world I liked it from the start.

The only songs that didn’t grab me on the first listen, and still don’t particularly like, were ironically the two selected as international singles: ‘One Of Us’ and ‘Head Over Heels’. Possibly that’s coloured by the fact that they were the singles, chosen over such obvious choices as ‘When All Is Said And Done’ (actually the first single in the USA and second single in Australia) and ‘The Visitors’ – even Phil Collins, producer of Frida’s 1982 solo album Something’s Going On, thought ‘The Visitors’ was an obvious single for the times.

At the end of my first listen to the whole album, as the music box of ‘Like An Angel Passing Through My Room’ faded away and the incessant ticking clock suddenly stopped, I knew that ABBA was over, that this would be their final album.

The Visitors Deluxe Edition

27 January, 2012

This week fans everywhere were excited at the news that a Deluxe Edition of ABBA’s final album, The Visitors, will be released on April 23rd.

The CD/DVD package includes the original 9-track album from 1981, the non-album b-side of the first single released from the album (‘Should I Laugh Or Cry’), five of the six tracks recorded the following year (both sides of the two 1982 singles, plus ‘I Am The City’, not released until it was featured on More ABBA Gold in 1993). The accompanying DVD includes two songs from the 1981 television special Dick Cavett Meets ABBA (one of ABBA’s few group TV appearances during 1981), the original promotional clip for ‘When All Is Said And Done’ (with an alternate version of the song), some of ABBA’s final TV appearances from late-1982, TV commercials and sleeve gallery.

Most exciting to fans is the news that it will also include previously unreleased ABBA music, the first time any “new” material has been allowed out of the so-called vaults since the Thank You For The Music box set in 1994.

The intrigingly-titled ‘From A Twinkling Star To A Passing Angel’, described as “a medley of demos”, hints at unheard versions of the albums closing track “Like An Angel Passing Through My Room’. It is known that there were several different attempts at recording the song (thanks to Carl Magnus Palm’s book ABBA – The Complete Recording Sessions) before the final version was recorded just a few weeks before the album’s release. One of those early versions had the working title ‘Twinkle Twinkle’.

The world’s media has picked up on the “unreleased track” news, with the story spreading like wildfire to seemingly every news outlet in the world over the last few days. Perhaps unsurprisingly as the news spread it started to morph into stories of “a new song”, “a new single”, even hints of a group reformation.

Fans of course lament the non-inclusion of the sixth song recorded in 1982, the legendary ‘Just Like That’, the rest of the Dick Cavett TV special, ABBA’s appearance on Show Express in November 1982 (when they performed three of the four songs released that year), and other potential inclusions from the period. There are, no doubt, valid reasons that may become clearer later.

The Visitors is the sixth ABBA studio album to receive the deluxe treatment, after Waterloo 30th Anniversary Edition (2004), Arrival (2006), ABBA – The Album (2007), Voulez-Vous (2010) and Super Trouper (2011).

Read the announcement, including the full track list, at ABBA – The Official Site, and a little more information on Carl Magnus Palm’s site.

Two For The Price Of One – backtrack or flash-forward?

28 June, 2011

Björn sings Two For The Price Of One on Dick Cavett Meets ABBA (pic: abbaontv.com)‘Two For The Price Of One’ is one of the most contentious songs in the ABBA catalogue. Ever since its release on The Visitors in 1981 it has split ABBA fans between those who hate it and those who don’t mind it – it seems one of the few ABBA songs that no one will list among their favourites.

A common complaint it that ‘Two For The Price Of One’ sounds like a throwback to the Ring Ring era, and it’s easy to see why: the song features a Björn lead vocal, with Agnetha and Frida relegated to an anonymous sounding backing choir. Its start-stop rhythms are reminiscent of the 1973 track ‘Love Isn’t Easy (But It Sure Is Hard Enough)’, itself another essentially unloved song in the ABBA catalogue.

But it can also be seen as an experiment in future forms for the song’s composers. The verses are in a recitative style, common in musicals during transitions, and used effectively by Benny and Björn a couple of years later in their Chess musical, such as in ‘The American And Florence’, which leads into ‘Nobody’s Side’.

Meanwhile the chorus makes use of counter-melodies, which in the case of ‘Two For The Price Of One’ features Agnetha and Frida expanding on Björn’s lyrics, but in the Chess musical had four characters singing complex conflicting themes in ‘Quartet (A Model Of Decorum And Tranquility)’.

The lyric is also one of the most successful of ABBA’s “story” songs, one of the few that is actually resolved in the end – most of the others, from ‘Me And Bobby And Bobby’s Brother’ to ‘On And On And On’ never reach a conclusion. The ambiguity of the punchline shows Björn’s growing skill in lyric writing – is the mother an intrusive chaperone, or is a sexual threesome on offer?

Ironically ‘I Let The Music Speak’, released on the same album, is seen as a nod to Benny and Björn’s future ambitions, when in reality it is a pastiche created to sound like a song from a stage musical.

So next time you’re listening to ‘Two For The Price Of One’ try listening with different ears, you might hear a different song.


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