ABBA Is Reuniting. Is That Really Such a Good Idea?
That ABBA is reuniting after nearly 40 years comes at an uncanny time in my life. Last autumn I had a major ABBA phase, during which I listened to all of their albums in-full several times and gained an appreciation for them rivaling my other pop favorites, like Madonna. I like their standards -- like 'Dancing Queen' and 'Lay All Your Love On Me' -- and their deep cuts -- like 'Kisses of Fire' and 'Like An Angel Passing Through My Room.' I love their final three albums in particular (and their final pair of stand-alone singles), especially the disco-fest 'Voulez-Vous' and the bittersweet 'The Visitors,' on which a mere three songs can be called uptempo. I've seen 'Mamma Mia' in D.C. and in Las Vegas, and grew up with the incredible ABBA Gold album. So it's as a hardcore, lifelong ABBA fan that I say: I would really rather this not happen.
Now, this is not a 'true' reunion; the four of them will not be performing as the senior citizens they are, but in hologram form, one of the industry's latest fads. They will therefore be 'performing' as their young selves -- keeping their promise to not make a farce of their old material, nor try to recapture old live magic that isn't there anymore. And the reunion special will focus almost entirely on contemporary performers singing old ABBA songs.
But ABBA has promised over the years that they would not reunite, even going as far as to turn down a billion-dollar tour offer. They have been fiercely protective of their legacy in many ways, rarely granting permissions to sample (Madonna and the Fugees excepted) or cover, and only very rarely releasing any unreleased material -- just a decent song from the vault in 1992 for 'More ABBA Gold' and a fascinating string of demos for 'Like An Angel Passing Through My Room' in 2012 for a new edition of The Visitors. This has made me appreciate them that much more: so many bands don't know when to hang it up, and end up spoiling their legacy with an endless stream of ill-conceived projects, reunions, and new music that just doesn't have the old spark. I liked that ABBA was above that.
It's been clear for a while, however, that ABBA is not too proud to cash in: although 'Mamma Mia' is fun, it's worthless as art, and the fact that they are going through with a sequel film is rather embarrassing. It isn't hard to imagine that the group just couldn't resist the paycheck any longer. 'Mamma Mia' has been an extremely lucrative enterprise for the group, but much of the public thinks it 'knows' ABBA through hearing those songs in that movie or stage production. Granted, I am glad that songs like 'Slipping Through My Fingers' and 'Honey Honey' got a second chance at life -- but the original recordings are exponentially superior to the Broadway and movie recordings. And although I like that they embrace their fun and carefree side, it makes it harder for people to appreciate their songs as art -- and so many of their songs are great pop art.
At any rate, I won't write the entire endeavor off too soon: if the new song, 'I Still Have Faith In You', is good, then all will be forgiven. ABBA knows better than anyone that all is forgiven in the name of a truly catchy hook. Some of their corniest songs lyrically are some of their most relentlessly catchy, like Arrival's 'Dum Dum Diddle', which is found between smashes 'Dancing Queen' and 'Knowing Me, Knowing You' on the track list, and Waterloo's dreamy 'Honey, Honey'.
At the very least, God knows I will be tuning in: I will be too curious. The participation of the band makes it a capital-e Event -- and ABBA is the greatest pop group of all time (yes), so it will be gratifying to see younger artists paying tribute to those who blazed the trail. The pop I love best descends from ABBA: they pioneered the variety of female-fronted pop music mastered in today's scene by fellow Swede Max Martin, the true King of Pop, who has written hits for Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson, Taylor Swift, Pink, Ariana Grande, and others.
Don't expect to catch me at the tour, though.
At any rate, here are my favorites:
Favorite ABBA albums, in order: The Visitors, Voulez-Vous, Super Trouper, Arrival, The Album, ABBA, Waterloo, Ring Ring
10 favorite songs, roughly in order: Lay All Your Love On Me, Dancing Queen, Gimme Gimme Gimme! (A Man After Midnight), Chiquitita, Kisses of Fire, The Day Before You Came, When All Is Said and Done, As Good As New, The Winner Takes It All, Under Attack