Sunday, July 08, 2018

The fab four

While I certainly won't be queuing up to see Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, I am at least grateful that it's prompted the Guardian's music writers into rating and ranking all 27 of ABBA's UK singles.

The article should be required reading for anyone who still insists on dismissing the Swedes as kitsch pop fluff (though perhaps we should hastily gloss over 'Thank You For The Music'). There's serious emotional depth to numerous ABBA songs, whose exposition and dissection of heartache is all the more gripping when you consider the fractured relationships in question weren't hypothetical but those between the band members themselves. As Tim Jonze observes of 'The Winner Takes It All' (and as Peter Robinson implicitly agrees with respect to 'One Of Us'), "Writing about divorce is one thing; asking your ex-wife to sing it quite another".

The critics acknowledge that, from the perspective of 2018, some songs do appear rather problematic lyrically (most obviously 'Does Your Mother Know', of course, but also 'Money, Money, Money', which Michael Hann admits "does feel a bit icky: the patriarchy is not being smashed").

However, the fact that the camply dramatic 'Fernando' and 'Chiquitita' and Eurovision romp 'Waterloo' all fail to make the top twenty is a sure-fire marker of the overall calibre of their output. Personally, I would have placed 'Mamma Mia' much higher, and, unlike Roy Keane, rate 'Dancing Queen' as one of my favourite ever singles, and certainly more highly than 'The Day Before You Came' (Jonze acclaims 'Dancing Queen' as "not only ABBA's most joyous song, but arguably pop music's itself"), but it's nevertheless hard to argue with many of the assessments. The song that tops the pile, 'SOS', is undeniably brilliant - even if it took Portishead's inspired cover to awaken some people to that fact.

How the band's hotly anticipated new material will compare remains to be seen, but as it stands ABBA's back catalogue is pretty much peerless in terms of pop craftsmanship.

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