on 7 January 2003
There have been many incarnations of CHESS but this is the original concept album written by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus of ABBA with veteran Tim Rice. The score is an amazing amalgam of soaring classical orchestras, rock, pop and choral singing.
Benny and Björn have always had an ear for the dramatic and with the added bonus of some very witty and sensitive lyrics by Tim Rice, this album is a true classic. The story is that of East versus West as Chess champions square up for the world championships, only for the American's lover to fall in love with the Russian opponent.
There are many fantastic moments on this CD - the bitter exhillarating climax ('You can slink back to your pawns and to your tarts!'), the comical merchandisers (Maybe it's a bit confusing for a game - but Rubiks Cubes were much the same), diplomats (No one's way of life is threatened by a flop - but we're gonna smash their bastard!) and civil servants ('He will not see you - with respect it buggers up his very taxing schedule') and the tender and heart-rending love songs.
'One Night In Bangkok' and 'I Know Him So Well' were both international smash hits but belie a very intelligent and thrilling musical. It is a true original classic.
on 2 December 2003
The song "I Know Him So Well" was No. 1 for 4 weeks in the UK and prompted me to make my first ever musical purchase - Chess. In nearly 20 years I have never tired of it and am still moved when I listen to many of the songs. The emotional highlight for me is the song "Pity the Child", a heart-rending outpouring of raw emotion from the twisted American player (based on Bobby Fisscher) which ends with a superb guitar solo.
Reviews of the stage musical always seem to say something like "some good music, but deeply flawed", without explaining what the flaws were. I don't see it - I saw the show in London, loved it, and would love to see it again.
Anyway, whatever the merits or shortcomings of the show (sadly not available on DVD or Video), the music is exceptional. It is a mix of rock and orchestral music (contrast the two singles, "I Know Him So Well" and "One Night in Bangkok"); it has some beautiful duets (trios, quartets...) with lovely interleaved melodies and some very elegant and clever lyrics by Tim Rice.
If I could, I would give it a hundred stars. This is, I think, my favourite album bar none.
on 30 December 2004
This CD stayed in my cabinet for many years without me giving it a second glance or thought. Then, one day with nothing much to do, I dug it out and played a few of the tracks. I was ASTOUNDED I hadn't listened to this CD before. This is a superb representation of Benny and Bjorn's composing abilities as well as Tim's incredibly moving lyrics. Each track is refreshing and full of life - as oppposed to some soundtracks where the first few songs are ok, and it snowballs downhill from there. lol!
In a nutshell, I highly recommend this CD. Even if you have never seen the show on stage, it should not hinder your enjoyment. I never seen the show live (though I've always wanted to) and the plot is still very clear and understandable.
Songs like "One Night in Bangkok" and "The Arbiter" will have you tapping your feet (or even dancing round the room) and those like "Pity the Child" and "I Know Him So Well" may even reduce you to tears.
All in all, an excellent display of talent and as I said, one I'd recommend v.v.v.highly to anyone with a love of music. :)
on 15 September 2000
This CD is full of some of the best songs from the age of the rock musical, from the well-known 'I Know Him So Well' to the less popular but equally as good 'Arbiter's Song' or 'Anthem'. It owes something to the early Lloyd-Webber rock musicals (such as 'Jesus Christ Superstar') but at the same time becomes so much more than these under the skilful pen of Andersson/Ulvaeus and Tim Rice. If you're put off this by the subject material don't be, as the plot is as much about the influence of the Cold War on people's lives as it is about chess. I've seen and heard other recordings but this must be considered the definitive one. A must-have for any musical aficionado's CD shelf.
on 5 May 2004
"Chess" is usually regarded by critics as being a somewhat patchy follow up to Abba's music- very good in places, yet too corny and cheesy for sophisticated theatre audiences as a whole.
However, I believe it is a very underrated musical, certainly on hearing it for myself(I have yet to see it on stage, for I'm only 20 and thereby too young to have been able to see it initially). I think part of the problem with critics is that they may have thought that because Andersson and Ulvaeus were from Abba, they expected "Chess" to be like Abba's music. And let's face it, if you don't like Abba's music in the first place, you're not going to take projects like this seriously, are you?
To counter the critics- it needs to be emphasised that this was intended to go beyond Abba, even if Andersson and Ulvaeus' roots obviously lay there. Sure, there are the classic pop songs- most notably "One Night in Bangkok" and "I Know Him So Well"- and both are very good songs. But there is SO much more to Ulvaeus and Andersson's composing than pop- within Chess there is some amazing orchestration(e.g. "Merano", "Chess", "Endgame") that shows their talents as composers. There is also a vast range of songs within the musical- solos, duets, trios, even quartets- which further highlight the versatility of the Swedish duo.
As for lyrics, Tim Rice is able to veer between the humourously sarcastic (Take "One Night in Bangkok", "Where I Want to Be") and the touchingly poignant ("I Know Him So Well", "Heaven Help My Heart"). That takes some skill to do that- and much as he had done before with "Cats", "Evita" and "Jesus Christ Superstar" Tim Rice manages to strike gold here with his creativity.
Without doubt, any musical which combines an intellectual board game, the Cold War and a complicated love story would be a massive gamble to take, given that chess and politics are not renowned for being sexy. Yet superb music and a mix of witty oneliners and powerful ballads combined to produce a musical of masterful genius. In my view, the 3 best bits on the OST album are:
1) "One Night in Bangkok"- okay, probably the corniest song in the musical, but the American's lyrics are incredibly acerbic, and the chorus sticks in the head!
2) "I Know Him So Well"- an absolutely beautiful, flawless song. Think Abba at their best combined with wonderfully elegant yet poignant lyrics by Rice. Elaine Paige and Barbra Dickson really could not have sung that song better, though.
3)"Opening Ceremony (Arbiter's Song)"- superb rock song, and incredibly catchy beat and lyrics. Plus Bjorn Skifs is a fantastic singer, if you've heard "Hooked On A feeling" by Blue Swede from "Reservoir Dogs" you will know what I mean.
Overall, this is a superb project, and one that showed that the guys from Abba were in fact accomplished musicians(indeed, working with Tim Rice would have boosted their credibility in any case). However, it needs to be said that this is very underrated by many. Okay, there are a few moments where the music "could" be considered to be cheesy pop, but for the most part this is sophisticated music that is wider ranging than what Abba achieved. It's just a pity I probably won't be able to see this musical!
on 1 August 2002
This is exceptional. Love to have heard the Abba girls singing 'I Know him so well'. Would have suited them to a tee. If only they'd stayed together. Never mind, this is the next best thing. 'One Night In Bangkok' is a superb pop song. Tim's lyrics are breathtakingly beautiful. Bjorn and Benny's melodies second to none. Ballads, Pop, Opera, all combine to tremendous effect. Best musical soundtrack? Close. This and 'Les Miserables' . Go buy 'em.
on 27 November 2000
From the uplifting, ironic beginning of Merano, through the authoritative The Arbiter (Opening Ceremony), to the lamenting Pity the Child, this CD delivers what I remember of Chess, and wonderfully. Well worth it.
I currently own the tape (my second copy!) and have the CD on order.
While the stage version is better, this version is execellent, and the sound quality cannot be faulted.
If you get a chance to see this, i would suggest that you do. In the meantime, buy this CD!
25 years on and with the musical getting a new lease of life with a sold out world tour coming i though it was time that this musical got the regonition it deserved the first time round!
after the break up of abba, benny and bjorn and musical legend tim rice put this together and it must be one of the most underestimated musical scores of all time...at times immensely classical..at times pure 80s pop..at times westend/ broadway standard...its stunning in its complexity!
set against a background of a world chess tournament and the cold war between the usa and russia.."the cold war" as it was known at the time..its the story of a love affair between an married american chess player and a russian players interpreter.(set against the politics and complexities of the situation)
the theme of the cold war may be long gone but the basic story is still relavant if a little complex and i recommend you read the synopsis as you listen to understand the story!
as well as the huge hits "i know him so well" and "one night in bangkok" every song is a gem in its own right..."nobodys side" and "heaven help my heart" by elaine paige are stunning! one a bitter ode to lost love you could imagine frida singing..the other a classic love song which if agnetha sang would break your heart! "pity the child" a lyrically amazing track about insecurity which uses the backing from "like an angel passing through my room" from abbas "visitors" album!
but there is so much more!
the musical was not a huge success internationally...i think people got lost along the way with the story in the theatre..but once you know the story it all makes sense and you can indulge yourself in the musical and lyrical mastery of the album!
fans of abba will love the next stage...fans of musical theatre will love the epic feel of the album...classical music fans will love the huge immense orchestration...fans of great theatrical vocals will adore elaine paige, barbara dickson and lesser known swedish artists who play the main roles but have all the vocal power of international stars