While a reunion in Malmö never materialised, 2013 saw a long-awaited – if anyone expected it – new solo album from former ABBA member Agnetha. It’s been well over 20 years since her last original material, and expectation was high.
It was also accompanied by the BBC documentary “Agnetha: ABBA & After” which seemed to turn around its fortunes in the UK, prolonging what looked to be a fairly brief chart career. I encourage anyone with any interest in ABBA or Agnetha to try and see it online – the only shame was that it had no contribution from Frida, with the void seemingly filled by Gary Barlow droning on about how amazing ABBA were.
I’ve only really recently done any digging into ABBA’s back catalogue, something that turned out to be very rewarding. I mean I knew the big songs that everyone knows, but there are some awesome moments in their back catalogue. You can look at my write-ups by looking for any posts tagged with “ABBA” (or just click there).
10 The one who loves you know – I love this intro, it feels just how I want this album to sound – hope and optimism from a much-loved artist we thought might never hear from again. This is just so uplifting, even if there’s that note of doubt that while she’s been hurt before she’s putting it on the line again. I just want to hug her, it’s a gorgeous little love song, with a really strong, simple melody to it. There’s even a key-change, we are being spoiled.
09 When you really loved someone – A bit of a subdued start, and a curious hint of present-day production with some sparse little buzzing pulses of synths. I’m having trouble reading the tone of this one, while the overall feel is quite positive, it’s more of a conciliatory song. Someone else has lost their love, and Agnetha is offering a kind word. This is one of the songs on the album that really feels like it’s a clearly modern comeback from Agnetha rather than staying safe and ‘timeless’ (less kind people might say ‘dated’). That beepy outro did sound a bit jarring to start with but I think it really works.
08 Perfume in the breeze – Well, the positivity had to run out at some point, perhaps track 3 was earlier than I expected. Agnetha’s musing about a fleeting romance, or something like that. Either way she’s back on her own, coming to terms with things with mundane things like the TV. There’s a slim hope this missing love will come back, but she doesn’t sound too convinced. Despite all this, the song is quite upbeat – there’s even a little whistling refrain towards the end. What does it all MEAN?
09 I was a flower – Oh dear, let’s not leave her alone for so long again… she’s not doing so well. This latest love didn’t just drift away with the seasons, it totally turned her world upside down. That chorus really hits the message home, poor woman… it’s a beautiful but bittersweet theatrical affair. While I don’t like to hear sad Ag, she commits to this one and it’s one of the standout moments of the album. That tinkling middle-eight smashed by the orchestra coming in for the last big chorus really gives me chills.
06 I should have followed you home – Hmm… one of the few big mis-steps in this project, I should’ve known a Barlow duet was a terrible idea. The thing that baffles me is that it would have been perfect if she was really reuniting with a former friend (or Björn, can you IMAGINE?!), but no, it’s Gary Barlow – they recorded the song without even meeting. The documentary showed their totally non-touching first meeting long after the song recording, what chemistry…! The song itself is reasonable but I just can’t get on board with it. Barlow even steals the last cringey falsetto note. CLEAR OFF, BARLOW.
06 Past forever – Cheer up, please… this one keeps up the maudlin feel of “Perfume in the breeze”. It might sound a little more positive chord-wise but it just sounds like she’s dwelling on regrets. Either way, it just sort of plods along, I’m not really getting much from this one.
09 Dance your pain away – Thank God, there’s a tempo! Hitting the dancefloor with all the state-of-the-art beats of an Atomic Kitten B-Side, we turn a blind eye and get excited about the concept of an Agnetha dance anthem. It’s a qualified success, it’s certainly a kick up the ass for an album that feels a little sorry for itself. It’s also a decent stab at a single, make it happen! Whether the advice is good – bottle up your feelings, girls! – it’s at least a viable pop song. The middle-eight is great and I’m left generally appreciating the song. But in the context of the album – and Agnetha – it feels a bit off-message doesn’t it?
06 Bubble – Who sequenced this album? That energy from the previous track drops off a cliff, and Agnetha kicks off with an acapella intro. Is that auto-tune? I suspected it earlier but thought I’d turn a blind eye. This actually IS a love song, she wants to shut out the world and just share it with one other person, but it sounds like another downer. That chorus is alright, but the whole thing is a bit of a plodder.
06 Back on the radio – Oh sweet lord, what’s going on? Auto-tune is rampant on this one, I’m dearly hoping this is an intentionally obvious device, I mean it’s full of radio references, right? This is just MOR hell for me though, it’s quite sweet but the lyrics are just nonsense. What bracelet button, is she talking to an astronaut? It feels like a sub-par Carpenters song, and it just makes me cringe. The only reason I didn’t give it a 5 is because the melody is sort of nice and at least she’s bloody cheered up!
07 I keep them on the floor beside my bed – Finally, Agnetha co-writes! That documentary led me to believe she was a good writer, so it’s really odd to see that she’s only written on this one song. Sadly she’s moping again, she’s holding on to a lost love (again) and reveling in a bit of nostalgia. The verses are quite sweet, and even has the first glimpse of ABBA in there somewhere. I’m not totally sold on it, but while I wouldn’t want a whole album like this, it feels like a better fit for Agnetha. Maybe I’m filling in the blanks myself because of the co-write credit, but it’s at least a fleeting hope that ABBA lives on in there somewhere…
Well there we are. I wonder if that’s going to be the last we ever hear from Agnetha. I hope not, but I just don’t understand the thinking behind this album. It feels oddly impersonal, and I would have loved to hear more writing from her. It’s also odd that she spoke of 2004 cover album “My colouring book” as being a bit depressing, while “A” has more than its fair share of doom and gloom.
I guess I had an idea of what to expect, and while generally speaking I enjoyed the album, it’s just missing that little spark somewhere. A few songs have it, but the rest seems stuck in MOR hell. And don’t even start me off on Barlow…
Keepers for the iPod: The one who loves you now, When you loved someone, I was a flower, Dance your pain away, I keep them on the floor beside my bed