ABBA – It’s War! (Updated article including Tim Rice’s riposte)
- San Francisco Chronicle:
Abba: Why Do They Sound Better Now Than 30 Years Ago?
ABBA: No thank you for the music
(see also the link to the rather good follow-up article below, entitled ‘ABBA: It’s War!’)
To those of us around in the 1970 or 80s, this polarisation of opinions is nothing new, of course. First the success and then the backlash, then more success followed by more backlash.
I didn’t really want to draw attention to the original Telegraph article (I feel obliged to now because someone commented on it in another thread*). Not because the contents of the Telegraph article offended me (far from it) but because having some people around who don’t like ABBA makes for a better world. Even ABBA were happy to give someone who "hated" them a mouthpiece in The Movie, remember?
There will always be people that don’t like ABBA, and a balance of opinion is a good thing. I ‘ignored’ the article on first reading it because to me it is plainly contrived to provoke a reaction. I mean, why publish it now, with Mamma Mia! a rip-roaring commercial success and Gold back at the top of the charts? Come on people, don’t fall for it!
*I’ve moved the comment I received (thanks for writing Dave!) regarding The Telegraph article to this thread but I should point out that it was submitted to me before I put together this article. It’s certainly proof that opinions vary.
Update: Due to the ‘avalanche of internet posts’ caused by his original article, the Telegraph’s Neil McCormick has written another piece entitled ‘ABBA: It’s War!’ – the link is below.
Update on the update: Tim Rice has now waded in on behalf of the ABBA. Many thanks to Jonathan for bringing Tim’s letter to my attention. You can see the letter in its original context on Neil McCormick’s blog.
I read your amusing and well-written piece about Abba today and can understand your frustration about their continuing presence in your life, but cannot remotely sympathise with it.
Obviously I have to declare an interest but I feel most strongly that their music (if not their English lyrics) is way up there with the best. The very best. They are certainly much closer to Lennon-McCartney than they are to Stock-Aitken-Waterman. In 1974, almost the only way a non-British or American act, in particular one from Sweden, could hope to make any impact outside their own territory was through Eurovision, not a route that encourages subtlety. Having made it internationally, their work developed remarkably – most of the songs you have a go at are from their very early days.
But leaving Abba aside, and here is my obvious bias, have you heard Chess, the musical I wrote with them in 1984? You may think my words for the project or the project itself dire but I would be amazed if you could say that the music is without merit. Some (I believe virtually all) of the tunes (and there is a huge variety) and orchestrations are quite outstanding – sophisticated while retaining the very elusive quality of memorable melody. Cock an ear to Pity The Child, Anthem or Endgame. Or even the instrumental opening to One Night In Bangkok. Then there is their Swedish language opera Kristina från Duvemåla which is a magnificent achievement, far outstripping attempts by other pop writers to move into classical fields. I don’t think that Status Quo, SAW or even Paul McCartney could do what Benny Andersson has done in both musical theatre and opera. He also has a very successful folk-influenced orchestra.
Abba was brilliant (I accept you don’t accept that) but just as Waterloo and Honey Honey were stepping stones to The Winner Takes It All and The Visitors, the group was a stepping stone to other fields.
I fear you may get a lot of stick for your article which will delight your editor. Much of it will be pretty inane but I hope my respectful comments give you cause and pause to re-think Andersson-Ulvaeus if not Abba.
PS I always fancied Frida most"