Friday, 26 March 2010

Thank you for the music

Those naughty scandinavians certainly know how to tease. Ten years after turning down the GDP of Ghana to reform for a world tour, Sweden's finest exports (after Volvo and hot blondes) are umm-ing and ahh-ing about a potential reunion.

It's almost thirty years since ABBA trudged morosely out of limelight, leaving a harmonious hole in all our hearts. They may have gone, but they were not forgotten, with enough remasters and reissues to keep subsequent generations of music lovers happy.

Over the intervening years their astonishing ouevre (excluding Bang-A-Boomerang and Dum Dum Diddle) has been reappraised with the kind of loving attention to detail that makes Michaelangelo look like a marketplace caricaturist.

At the time, ABBA was easily dismissed as the pinnacle of Eurocheese - like BabyBel with a knack for complicated harmonies. Unfairly lumped in with Baccara and Boney M, the complexity and finesse of their output was easily overlooked.

To the uninitiated, the songs are little more than formulaic pap - catchy melody and predictable structure: verse chorus verse chorus bridge key change chorus fade. But if it was really that simple, music journalists would be busy discussing the musical legacy of Steps and S Club 14.

Now, it's a different story, with musicians as diverse as The Edge and three different Brians (Eno, Higgins and May) stepping forward to doff their white sombreros in ABBA's direction.

When Mamma Mia was developed into a (record-breaking) West End musical, Benny and Bjorn spent months in the studio with original audio engeineer Michael B Tretow, trying to figure out how the hell they made the records sound so good. The harmonies were so dense and complicated they actually had to be forensically deconstructed to give the musical's cast any hope of capturing the signature ABBA sound. It's also the reason why ABBA-week on any music talent show is about as enjoyable as reaching into a faulty garbage disposal unit to rescue a wedding ring.

ABBA's unique selling point was the way they brought together a triptych of talents - songwriting, vocals and production. There are countless groups that can manage two out of three, but the Swedish superstars were the only ones to successfully nail all three.

For decades now, the fans have had a dream of seeing the Swedish sixty-somethings squeezed back into those unflattering spandex outfits and recapturing the melodic magic once again. Sadly, two whole generations have had to settle for ironic Australian cover bands for their fix of the live ABBA experience.

Finally, it seems as though there may be a glimmer of hope that the fab foursome may be on the verge of reuniting. In a new interview with The Times, Benny and Bjorn have hinted that a reunion is not out of the question: “Yeah, why not? I don’t know if the girls sing anything any more. It’s not a bad idea, actually.”

OK, so it's hardly an effusive confirmation, but it's better than flat-out refusal. The pop landscape is a pretty uninspiring place right now, dominated by plummy electro-tarts, dull bedsit rockers and ten-a-penny reality TV stars. Here's hoping that ABBA can finally reconcile their pasts and find a way to come together. Let's face it, it's a richer man's world thanks to songs like this:

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