Thoughts and observations on the Swedish foursome
published September 26, 2023
Writing ABBA On Record - Packaged Promoted Reviewed, I've had a lot of fun assembling review excerpts for ABBA's singles and albums. As Paul Carter pointed out in his preview of the book, some of them are quite startling. Below is a section from the book's Introduction, where I make a few observations to prepare the reader for what's to come. But first, a reminder:
21 October 2023: Please pre-order ABBA On Record no later than this date if you want it personally signed by me (just place your order and you will automatically get it signed). Copies of ABBA On Record bought after this date will not be signed for as long as this edition remains in print. 21 October is also the deadline date for UK customers to buy the book at the current UK price. After that it will be Europe prices (please visit abbaonrecord.com for more details about the prices and to place your order).
A NOTE ON THE REVIEW EXCERPTS
Critics, eh – who needs ’em? Certainly not Eric Stewart of British 1970s band 10cc. “I think Carl Magnus Palm was sadly incorrect and should leave production to creative musicians who love their job,” was his response to this writer’s assessment of Stewart’s contribution to Agnetha Fältskog’s 1985 album Eyes Of A Woman. In my 2001 biography Bright Lights Dark Shadows – The Real Story Of ABBA, I expressed a less than favourable opinion of Stewart’s work on the album, based on the feeling that he had simply pressed the mid-1980s default production button, without any of the sense of adventure and ambition that had marked his best work with 10cc. No such arguments would mean anything to Eric Stewart, though. “A critic,” he determined, “is usually the person who jealously criticises something he can never do himself.” ABBA manager Stig Anderson, meanwhile, argued that there should be a little box printed on review pages “where it says: This schmuck doesn’t like country music; he loves hard rock and he hates fiddles. Now this schmuck will say what he thinks about the latest country album”.
These anecdotes barely scratch the surface of the complex relationship between the artists making the music, those who have taken it upon themselves to comment on the results, and the consumers reading the reviews. A “review” is certainly no static artefact, so in taking part of the review extracts included in this volume, it may be worth keeping a few things in mind.
First of all, the reviews from Swedish, British, American and Australian publications have often been written in wildly different contexts and with varying agendas. For example, for most of ABBA’s career, Sweden lacked a serious music press, except for a few scattered publications. This means that most of the review extracts come from the daily papers, and may not always be written by the paper’s “rock/pop” scribe, but by a general entertainment reporter. Compare this, for example, with the UK where there were no less than four weekly music papers alive and kicking for the duration of the period – Melody Maker, New Musical Express, Sounds and Record Mirror – all of which featured writers who were passionate and usually quite knowledgeable about rock and pop music.
Oftentimes, one reviewer in, say, the British music papers reviewed all singles a particular week, and that review column was meant to be read as one piece. Consequently, when extracted from the original context, the reviews become incomprehensible, even more so when the reviewer’s primary aim was to entertain readers. Bearing this in mind, though, the review excerpts in this book have been selected to give a flavour of how ABBA’s music was received at the time. In some cases, there was a wealth of reviews to choose from, in other instances – primarily the group’s earliest releases – there was hardly anything. Nevertheless, the review extracts will hopefully entertain and enlighten in equal measures, and, from time to time, perhaps even make your jaw drop.
A blog post bonus: a review excerpt featured in the book. Can you guess which ABBA album was reviewed this way?
“When I listen to [the album] I’m gripped with the same sense of nausea that I got when I heard their last album. A shuddering uneasiness at the ice-cold calculation that must be behind every bar of their music. Yet, it’s hard to avoid being impressed by it. Everything is perfectly in place, technically and musically, from the first song to the last.”
Sivert Bramstedt, Dagens Nyheter (Sweden)
The reviewer - is he "the person who jealously criticises something he can never do himself"?
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