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Agnetha Faltskog - the Queen of Pop is back!
on 13 May 2013
This is a triumphant return by the girl with the golden hair - ABBA's legendary blonde diva. Her unforgettable voice is in pristine condition, maturity giving it even more colours, expression and subtleties than in her ABBA days, yet still - astonishingly - as fresh and clear as Nordic spring water, and often heart stoppingly beautiful.
Few other singers in the history of pop can match her particular ability to deliver a poignant lyric in such a memorable and touching way; a unique mixture of vulnerability, innocence, yearning, and sexiness. Her disarming Swedish accent - so familiar from her ABBA recordings - only heightens the appeal. Agnetha can make any song immediately hers; it is an instantly recognisable voice and in technical terms, her breathing, pitch, phrasing and diction in this "torchy" repertoire are all unparalleled in modern pop music. Forget Kylie, Madonna and co.; this is the real deal - she is, simply, a living legend.
Jorgen Oleffson's bespoke songs, with contributions by, amongst others, Carole Bayer-Sager and Gary Barlow, are by and large worthy of her talents, presented in sweeping and sophisticated arrangements. There is nothing to alarm ABBA fans here, just a good mix of timeless ballads, disco numbers and nostalgic pop.
The two early singles, The One Who Loves You Now, and When You Really Love Someone, are far from the best things on the album, albeit delivered with heartfelt conviction. I Was A Flower might have sounded sentimental in less skilful hands, but here become a painful anthem to the loss of innocence, genuinely moving. The retro Dance Your Pain Away sounds like the disco love-child of Voulez-Vous, and Gimme, Gimme, Gimme, capturing exactly the swirling hedonistic atmosphere of the late 70s. The implicit lyric will surely make this a huge hit in gay clubs all over the world.
The bitter-sweet duet with Gary Barlow I Should Have Followed You Home has a dark sense of regret; a hint, perhaps, of The Day Before You Came. The two voices blend perfectly. Several other tracks - Past Forever, Perfume In The Breeze and the unlikely title of Bubble (Agnetha's favourite on the album) - are tinged with a similarly haunting atmosphere of sadness. They inevitably reinforce the fantasy of Faltskog as a lonely, rejected, heartbroken women - mainly because she brings such pathos to her generous performances. The balance is then redressed with the cheery Back on your Radio, a piece of pure bubble-gum pop.
The final track, I Leave Them On The Floor Beside My Bed, is also noteworthy; it's Agnetha's own composition, her first for a quarter of a century. It's another wistful, melancholic theme, the sort of nostalgic wallow so suited to her fragile, plaintive voice. Who else cries with the voice like Agnetha?
This is a tremendous return to form, without doubt her most successful English language solo album. If she never recorded again (we must hope she does, but she is, after all, 63 years old), she could still rest assured that she had concluded her remarkable career on a genuine high.