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This review is from: The Visitors (Audio CD)
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.
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Showing 1-10 of 11 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 17 Jan 2009 16:17:59 GMT
ScottPaul ScottPaul says:
Absurd how everyone thinks they have to find an insult out of things they like. Who's the 'everyone' insulting 'Two For The Price Of One'? You should hear Fleetwood Mac in their worst moments, the ridiculous girlie unnaturally high Bee Gees with their anorexic lyrics that only ever seem to say 'let's dance' ('jive talking'-WHAT??!!). ABBA came out with a fresh song to keep the wrenching heartache and doom from completely filing the album. And the biggest clue in 'Soldiers' "they look so strong, you'd think that nothing in the world was wrong"). ABBA are quite plainly singing about keeping up the grand image of perfection while they were straining in major turmoil with each other. Something the dull slush of the Mac's Christine McVie could never manage. And as for bonus tracks, though I'm mad 'You Owe Me One' is left off, 'Should I Laugh Or Cry' is a gem and 'Cassandra' is very likely the greatest unknown masterpiece they ever did. B-SIDE??!! WTH!
Posted on 30 Jun 2010 09:31:16 BDT
Kasper Michelsen says:
I'm surprised at the bashing of "Two For The Price Of One" ... I always liked the track, I think the lyrics are funny (if a bit silly, but I can forgive them that), and musically it's better than pretty much anything they did prior to 1975 in my book. Not the highlight of the album, but with an album as good as "The Visitors", that doesn't mean it's a bad song at all.
Posted on 26 Jan 2012 16:47:14 GMT
Bernard H. Christ says:
Two things. Firstly, what a cracking review. A pleasure to read.
Secondly, of course 'Two For The Price of One' is abomination. It's dreadful beyond belief. I mean, each to their own, but come on guys. IT'S HORRENDOUS. When you think that they left off 'The Day Before You Came' and the excellent 'Cassandra' and put that cringeworthy joke instead, it makes you wonder if they'd gone mad. It's an almost perfect album, but sadly, the inclusion of TFTPOO means it's not quite. Still, at least in these days of iTunes, it's easy to leave songs off when you upload...
Posted on 26 Feb 2012 12:20:52 GMT
Jesper Kunuk Egede says:
I loved the entire review and, most of all, the review of "I Let the Music Speak". As Mr. Christ says elesewhere, it was a pleasure to read this!
In reply to an earlier post on 4 Mar 2012 17:16:45 GMT
Mr. D. Bertram says:
The Day Before You Came and Cassandra were recorded AFTER the Visitors sessions, they were intended to part of a new album which never came to completion, hence it's now stuck on the end of the wonderful Visitors album, which in my opinion is their very best, including Two For the Price of One, a song that surely shows that after everything he went through Bjorn did not lose his sense of humour!
Posted on 13 Mar 2012 13:32:10 GMT
Music Lover says:
A review that was a real pleasure to read. Balanced, with witty observation, and never descending to low caustic sarcasm. Thank you!
In reply to an earlier post on 22 Apr 2012 17:52:06 BDT
Last edited by the author on 22 Apr 2012 17:53:35 BDT
Daniel J. Latham says:
Actually The Day Before You Came and Cassandra were recorded the year after The Visitors was released. Yes, they're stronger songs, but they weren't part of The Visitors sessions.
Sorry, I see that Mr D Bertram already addressed this point. I think it bears repeating!
Posted on 22 Apr 2012 18:02:00 BDT
Last edited by the author on 22 Apr 2012 18:03:49 BDT
Daniel J. Latham says:
As for the enigmatic lyrics on Soldiers: It took me years to figure them out as well. It's a Cold War parable. It's about how a militarised country such as the US can drag a neutral country like Sweden into a global conflict while the residents of the neutral country stand placidly by, doing nothing, assuming the conflict doesn't affect them and cannot engulf them.
"Is it true that the beast is waking"-- the beast being warfare
"You and I have reason to remember/Soldiers write the songs that soldiers sing/The songs that you and I don't sing"-- military makes war without the citizens' involvement.
"Let's not look the other way/taking a chance/'Cos if the bugler starts to play/we too must dance"-- We shouldn't ignore a military buildup and escalating conflict between superpowers, because if cold war escalates into hot (the bugler starts to play) we'll all be drawn into a global conflict. There will be no more idly standing by.
Posted on 24 Apr 2012 15:35:02 BDT
D. Cowan says:
A very good review. love your comment about Frida and the parsnips! 2 for the price of one is just the worst song ever. It must have been a vanity project of Bjorn's, I think he was looking to get his voice on there somehow. It's criminal really.
In reply to an earlier post on 28 Apr 2012 17:52:08 BDT
N. Mcnab says:
I don't think "Soldiers" is autobiographical or in any way refers back to the band. It's about militarism (this was the Reaganite early 1980s remember?) pure and simple. Refer back to the lyrics, it's pretty straightforward.