It's said this album was something of a departure for the group. That this was not the ABBA people had come to know and love. No "Waterloo". Not a trace of a "Dancing Queen". It should be pointed out however that this album is not exactly "ABBA does Death Metal".
The opener and title track is perhaps the closest they came to emulating the New Wave/Synth Pop explosion of the time. Parts of it are reminiscent of "Summer Night City" (minus the disco) and "Eagle" (without the majesty) while managing to create an interesting and unsettling sonic landscape all of its own which suggests an encounter of the third kind may very well be waiting behind the locked door, and they must surely score points for creating a pop song about Russian dissidents.
Next up is "Head Over Heals" which treats us to its fairground synths, jaunty chorus and tale of 'girl-about-town gets herself in trouble'. This one is a bit like Agnetha's very own "Money Money Money" and lyric-wise it's tempting to imagine Björn, a la Fleetwood Mac, cheekily having his ex sing a song about herself that isn't altogether flattering. Or not.
"When All is Said and Done" is a standout in the style of "The Winner Takes it All", although it is surprisingly upbeat for a break-up song (and sort of Christmassy) with a positively defiant lead vocal from Frida. A song of shaking hands and walking away, head held high. Bittersweet rather than just plain bitter. It would have made a good, upbeat album closer, and had serendipity played its part properly, the perfect send off for the group: "Thanks for all your generous love and thanks for all the fun ..."
"Soldiers" is perhaps the forgotten gem on this album. Starting sparsely with a vaguely military drum and some admirably restrained guitar, it then segues effortlessly from a moody, understated first verse and Agnetha's plaintive lead vocal into the most sublime, unashamedly anthemic chorus, where Frida and Björn join her in some quite beautiful harmonies. As for the enigmatic lyrics: "Soldiers write the songs that soldiers sing, the songs that you and I don't sing ..." What's that all about then? The need to have the courage of your convictions be it in love or war? To judge not lest you too be judged? Answers on a postcard please.
Frida takes centre-stage once more for "I Let the Music Speak" aka "The One that Sounds like it Belongs on the Soundtrack of Les Miserables" (around the point where some peasant woman stands up in her rags and sings heartrendingly about not having enough parsnips to make soup for her son who's just returned from the war). The lyrics though tell a different story. One of nighttime hauntings and astral projection (ABBA staples then). Dark, fanciful and slightly macabre on the verses, the choruses return us to more familiar ABBA territory with Frida displaying her quite formidable vocal prowess throughout.
After that we get "One of Us" and what can I say? It's just gorgeous. Greek tragedy laced with Swedish cool. A happy little drumbeat bouncing playfully along behind Agnetha's wrist-slashing and soaring vocals. A kitchen sink tearjerker in the great tradition of "Knowing Me, Knowing You" (a-ha!) and "The Winner Takes it All" and quite rightly an all-time classic.
With "Two For the Price of One" the question is always going to be Is it as bad as everyone says? The short answer is yes. The long answer, however, is also yes. By and large it bears the rare distinction of being an unintentionally funny intentionally funny song. Wait until you hear the "quite exciting" husky voice that answers the mock-telephone (unless there's another layer to this fable which I'm completely missing). The one semi-redeeming feature is the chorus, where everyone joins in with some low-key harmonies and thankfully you can no longer tell what they're singing about, but just when all the verses are out of the way and you're sure it's safe to tap your foot till the finish, in blunders the Salvation Army and marches the song off to a merciful end.
Luckily, Agnetha is on hand to lead us back to sanity and wave her first born off to school in the shape of "Slipping Through my Fingers". Saved from mawkishness and total schmaltz by one of those sublime, harmony-heavy choruses and Agnetha's crystal clear voice and heartfelt delivery.
"Like an Angel Passing Through My Room" closes the album proper. It has to be said that, on this album at least, most of the vocal kudos must go to Frida, and she plays a blinder in this last one. Stripped as it is of all sonic clutter as well as harmonies, when the song begins you'll think - quite astonishingly - that she's singing from the corner of your room. A clock ticks away on the mantelpiece. A music box plays quietly in the background and Frida sings of lying down one last time and welcoming the Angel of Death. Amen.
Of the bonus tracks (all top-notch, especially Under Attack which features a good old-fashioned harmonic tussle between A & F in the chorus) The Day Before You Came is the standout - swirling, rain-drenched synths, a sense of impending doom while tantalisingly we never find out who or what 'you' is. It could be love. It could be Nuclear annihilation. Could be the gas bill. Pop Noir par excellence.
All of the trademarks which made the group so popular are still in place throughout - strong vocals, clever song-structures, barmy lyrics and a healthy smattering of Scandinavian navel-gazing and marital strife. All of it delivered with an icily immaculate production sheen - elements of which dovetail neatly with the current synth revival, while the rest, due to the solid songwriting, sounds simply timeless. In short, anyone with even the most limited musical palate will find something to enjoy in this album.