Tuesday, 10 April 2012

ABBA's finest hour re-released and reviewed

The Visitors was Swedish supergroup ABBA's final studio album, and was originally released over thirty years ago, in 1981. With the 80s getting well underway the band were moving away from their pure pop sound that had made them so popular in the 70s, this was a far more subdued affair. The album topped the UK chart but surprisingly didn't spawn any #1 singles, One Of Us coming closest, peaking at #3. It was to be their last ever top ten hit. To follow is information regarding the release and my review of the opus, bonus tracks included!

April 23rd sees the release of The Visitors Deluxe Edition. As with previous releases in the Deluxe Edition series, this version of ABBA’s final album offers a DVD of archive material along with CD bonus tracks – including the demo medley From A Twinkling Star To A Passing Angel, the first previously unreleased ABBA recordings since 1994!

The Deluxe Edition of The Visitors, ABBA’s eighth and final studio album, originally released in 1981, features single hits such as One Of Us, Head Over Heels and When All Is Said And Done, along with Slipping Through My Fingers, a highlight in one of the more poignant moments in the musical Mamma Mia!

Like the previous Deluxe Editions of ABBA’s albums, The Visitors will feature several bonus selections along with a DVD of rare and previously unreleased material from the archives.

For ABBA fans, the most sensational inclusion in the package will be the previously unreleased track, From A Twinkling Star To A Passing Angel (demos). This is the first time since the Thank You For The Music box set in 1994 that ABBA have opened the doors to the tape vaults to release previously unheard music from the group’s heyday.


1. The Visitors - The title track of the album and released as a single in the US, it was a daring album opener, the first half of the song sounding completley un-ABBA with its psychadelic sound. Electro and rock elements are introduced as the track builds and Frida's lead vocal is confident and mysterious in equal measure. A brilliant opener that sets the standard. 9/10

2. Head Over Heels - The second British single from the album, Head Over Heels criminally peaked at a lowly #25 in the UK as the band's star was apparently fading. Unjust because it's at least as good as half of their 70s hits, and one of the most early ABBA-esque on the album with the big chorus, harmonies and pop production. A true lost 'hit'. 9.5/10

3. When All Is Said And Done - The second Frida lead on the album, When All Is Said And Done was another big pop song. A single in a few territories but sadly not the UK, it's as schlager as ABBA were likely to come at this point in their career. Very melodic, compact and instant, it would have made a great Eurovision entry. 9.5/10

4. Soldiers - A change in pace with the more atmospheric album track Soldiers, moody verses and production give way to a surprisingly chirpy chorus. It's all very early 80s and certainly one of the album tracks most influenced by the music climate of the time. Not my favourite ABBA song but definitely an interesting diversion. 8.5/10

5. I Let The Music Speak - A fairly dramatic song musically considering how slow it is for the most part, the minor chords make for an engaging, almost haunting listen at times. In other parts it sounds so theatrical that it feels tailor made for a musical. Excellent. 9/10

6. One Of Us - The lead single from the album in the UK, the Agnetha led One Of Us is a big melodic pop song with a hint of a cod-reggae beat going on underneath the musical layers. The band's last major international hit, it was a glorious last hurrah and definitely underrated in their hit canon. 9.5/10

7. Two For The Price Of One - Onto a track sung by Benny and Bjorn now. It's a chirpy, cheesy pop song with unwelcome telephone ringing and what feels like a brass band playing at the end. It's not terrible per se, it just doesn't suit this album at all, completely breaks up the flow and feels rather novelty in places. 6/10

8. Slipping Through My Fingers - Introduced to much of the general public through the Mamma Mia film, this is a stunning ballad sung by Agnetha focusing on the tale of a mother and her young daughter, sung from the mother's perspective as she watches the girl grow up too quickly. Released as a single in Japan, it's easily my favourite track on the original The Visitors and one of my favourite ABBA songs. A beautiful song which Agnetha really sells to the listener emotionally. 10/10

9. Like An Angel Passing Through My Room - Notable for being the final track on the final studio album, Frida leads a very sparse, subtle but effective track that never really builds like the majority of ABBA's material. The simplicity is a huge selling point for the song though, a great ethereal closing track. Madonna clearly saw the merit in the song as she covered it in 2000 as part of the sessions with William Orbit for her Music album. It never made it onto the album but did eventually leak a few years later. 9/10

Bonus tracks

10. Should I Laugh Or Cry - As with the other Deluxe re-issues there are a number of bonus tracks for this release of The Visitors. Should I Laugh Or Cry was the only one that was actually intended at some point for this album. It was left off but was used as a b-side on the One Of Us single in the UK. The production is very typical of a lot of The Visitors, very of its time with electro influences, it was a lot more 'modern' than the ABBA of five years previous. Would have fit in perfectly as track 7 on the main album, with Two For The Price Of One relegated to b-side (or preferably cutting room floor) status. 8.5/10

11. I Am The City - ABBA split halfway through the recording sessions for the ninth studio album that never materialised. Luckily, we eventually got to hear all of the tracks that were finished with the exception of Just Like That. Finally released as part of More ABBA Gold in 1993, I Am The City was far more of its era than perhaps anything they'd done before, the harmonies were spot on but the jaunty production was similar to a lot of the electro pop hits coming out of the UK and US at the time. 8.5/10

12. You Owe Me One - Also intended to be on the ninth album, You Owe Me One as good as confirmed that much of the album was destined to be a return to the pure pop of the past. A very happy and melodic track, it was released as the b-side to Under Attack but would have made an excellent album track. 9/10

13. Cassandra - Released as the b-side to The Day Before You Came, Cassandra was more melancholy than the other post-The Visitors tracks. A lovely, swaying production accompanies a fairly subtle melody, definitely not single material but very nice nonetheless. 8.5/10

14. Under Attack - Released as part of the 1982 compilation The Singles: The First Ten Years, Under Attack was ABBA's final 'new' single released in the UK and peaked at #26, where it spent four weeks in a row. A short and sharp chorus, the song isn't anything particularly amazing in my opinion but it's still good. 8/10

15. The Day Before You Came - The Day Before You Came was the lead single from The Singles: The First Ten Years in the UK but only managed a #32 peak. A really atmospheric single, delivered superbly by Agnetha (with the legendary flirting on the Stockholm train video), this was moody early 80s electro-pop at its absolute finest. The final song they ever recorded and what a way to go out! It was recently voted a surprisingly high 3rd in an ITV poll to find the nation's favourite ABBA single. Safe to say it's built up a deserved cult following since its release. Easily one of my favourite songs of the 80s, had the never released ninth album been built around this song, it would have been something very special indeed. I worry for the British public of 1982 that they couldn't see the brilliance in this track, no matter how in or out of vogue ABBA might have been at the time. 10/10

16. From A Twinkling Star To A Passing Angel - The major draw for any ABBA fan to buy this deluxe edition would be this track. Never before released, this is a near nine minute medley that comprises various demo versions of the final track on The Visitors, Like An Angel Passing Through My Room. Comprising takes of the song with different band members singing, to a version with disco production, it's an intriguing listen, if only to see how many times the band went through the recording process of this song before finally settling on using the eventual album version. It's impossible to give a rating to a medley of demos but it's well worth a listen.

Overall verdict - In my opinion The Visitors is one of the greatest albums of the 80s and definitely up there as one of ABBA's finest, if not their best. It may not have been reflected in its sales and chart success compared to their earlier releases, but it's stood the test of time convincingly and proves that they were far more than just a disco or schlager band. The re-release pulls together the tracks meant for the unreleased ninth album and as such this deluxe album makes for a fascinating look at the musical output of the last couple of years of Sweden's greatest export, and one of the world's most famous pop acts of all time. 9.5/10

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