ABBA: Super Troupers
PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
An Exhibition That Demonstrates the Importance of a Genius Group
IF you take an Internet trip…
ALL PHOTO CREDITS (unless stated otherwise): Getty Images
and head over to the website of the Southbank Centre - you will find a bit about ABBA. In fact; it is more than a mere ‘bit. It is a full-on passion-exhibit that, as they say, takes you on an immersive and deep road into the back-catalogue and legacy of one of the biggest bands ever. The Swedish foursome of Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus; Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, in the 1970s, created some of the finest music the world has ever seen. I wanted to write about the exhibit for a couple of reasons. For one; it is a must-see presentation that brings you into a unique world of ABBA. The landscape and mini-universe of Sweden’s best-loved export is narrated by Jarvis Cocker. It is only natural the legendary Pulp frontman should narrate the inner-workings and magic of the band. Many might turn their noses at that assumption but it is well-founded. His voice is a blend of emotions and contrasts; it is something you are gripped by and immerse yourself in. His alluring tones are perfect to take us into the world of ABBA. Make you sure head to the Southbank Centre because it is one of the must-visit events/exhibits of the winter. I am going to get up there because there are more and more music-based ‘galaxies’ forming that provide a deeper and more interactive way of connecting.
It is not only a collection of songs being played as one wanders around. The My Name Is Prince exhibition at the O2 is another case of a musician’s work being treated with respect and passion. Although Prince is not with us; memorabilia and rare artefact were presented to the public back in October. Among the exhibits on show is the orange-cloud guitar that was played at his 2007 Super Bowl halftime performance; Third Eye glasses from 2014; The Raspberry Beret cloud-suit from 1985 – and so much more! ABBA’s layout is a bit different: the Prince exhibit is more traditional in terms of a museum-style layout and, I don’t think, has narration. ABBA are still around – its members, anyway – so many will ask why go to the effort to celebrate a group that have not performed together for years?! That is a good question but, as Pop music starts to come into the ascendancy this year, more eyes are looking back. Pop has been somewhat generic and streamlined the past few years. So many exciting young artists are emerging and, with that, splicing genres and sounds. It will be a bolder scene and one (one hopes) defined by quality songwriting – as opposed to the commercial themes and plastic production. Who knows what will happen but the point is Pop is starting to come back into a credible realm. Many are taking from ABBA and, decades down the line; they are borrowing aspects from the Swedish group.
IN THIS PHOTO: Prince/PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Hogan/Getty Images
The Southbank Centre’s page (on the exhibit) talks about a very special year in the group’s rise:
“In 1974 ABBA catapulted into British consciousness as they won the Eurovision Song Contest at The Dome, Brighton. The Swedish pop group would go on to become a household name across the world, and later this month we celebrate their impact and their legacy with our immersive exhibition ABBA Super Troupers.
ABBA were a breath of fresh air to a 1970s Britain mired in a financial crisis epitomised by strike action, the three-day working week, and the effects of The Troubles. To help get a picture of the year in which the Swedish group arrived in Britain, or indeed to relive it all over again, take a look at our timeline”.
That description pretty much sums up why the group have endured and are celebrated – and why their potency and appeal has never faded. You can look at the timeline on the website and see how their songs fitted with the changing times. To me; their arrival was the European wave of colour and Pop that added something dynamic and fun to the rather strained and grey sky. It is interesting looking back and the industrial strife, political tensions and uncertainty. The same can be said today: we are living in a time when everyone is nervous and not sure how things will work out.
I feel ABBA are not part of the 1970s in the same way other acts are. We have had genres like Glam and Disco; Grunge and the New Romantics. Some of those sounds have survived today but the original pioneers are gone; their music is not as heady and explored as once was – much has moved on and evolved since then. The same cannot be said of ABBA. Although the songwriting was done by the boys of the band – Benny and Björn – it was the complete band that made the music come to life. In fact; many could argue those sumptuous lead vocals made the music come to life. The pressures of touring and the levels of fame – complete with some inter-band issues – meant their lifespan was not as long as many would like. The always-mooted reunion rumour is never far away and it seems the appetite for revival is strong. The official ABBA website shows where it started to go wrong for the group:
“In March 1980, ABBA took their tour to Japan for what turned out to be their very last live concerts in front of a paying audience. The rest of the year was devoted to the recording of ABBA’s next album, Super Trouper, containing classic hits like ‘The Winner Takes It All’ and the title track.
In February 1981 the final blow was dealt to ABBA’s happy-couples image of the 1970s, when Benny and Frida announced their divorce. This still didn’t stop the foursome from working together. At the end of the year, ABBA’s eighth album, The Visitors, was released, with ‘One Of Us’ as its biggest hit single…
…Through the course of 1982 the energy was gradually running out of the group, as Björn and Benny set their sights on writing the musical Chess and Agnetha and Frida were reviving their solo careers. The only ABBA LP release this year was a compilation double album of their hit singles, entitled The Singles – The First Ten Years, including two new songs. Although the single ‘The Day Before You Came’ was one of the group’s most accomplished recordings it failed to become a worldwide hit on the scale they had been used to. At the end of 1982, ABBA decided to take a break. If they wanted to, they reasoned, they could always get back together after a few years.
More than three decades after ABBA’s “temporary break”, there still has been no ABBA reunion. But the group’s music lives on: the 1990s saw the beginning of a major revival, with successful cover versions and high-profile movies using ABBA songs on their soundtracks attracting a great deal of attention. The compilation CD ABBA Gold, released in 1992, has sold more than 30 million copies to date. The 1993 companion album, More ABBA Gold, went on to sell 3 million copies. The box set Thank You For The Music followed in 1994, containing all the hits, selected album tracks, plus rare and previously unreleased recordings”.
That shows, A) why it was inevitable the close-knit group would fall and, B) why the public have been pining for new material and taking the group to heart. It is amazing to think they achieved so much in a short period.
ABBA shot into the public consciousness when they took Waterloo all the way to the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974. A special plaque was fitted in Brighton last year to celebrate their famous win. The affection the British public has for them, especially, is heartening and obvious. There are similarities between the Pop we produced in the 1960s and the variety ABBA brought to these shores. The Waterloo album, their third, was released in 1974 but, aside from the title-track; there was little to suggest the band would endure for this many years. It was a promising collection…but better albums were to come. Their third album (ABBA) was released in 1975 and was a marked improvement from their previous effort. Mama Mia and S.O.S., two staples of the group’s routine, were on that record: there were hardly any filler tracks and a total of seven singles were released from the album. The upgraded sound of 1976’s Arrival saw the band, as the title implies, coming onto the scene with conviction. Dancing Queen, Knowing Me, Knowing You and Money, Money, Money were on that record. They, again, are staples and showed the band were becoming more adventurous and confident. Those big hits saw people all around the world flocking to see the band. They are classics that are in everyone’s head and we all know the words for – even if we do not admit it!
The biggest drawback when confessing an appreciation of ABBA is the stigma and criticism people give. Many see them as cheesy and bland; a band that appealed to a small sect but never really produced quality. The group had to fight these criticisms from the start and were seen, by some, as over-hyped and sterile. The thing is; the band got strong and ABBA: The Album boasted Take a Chance on Me and The Name of the Game. Voulez-Vous had the title-track, I Have a Dream and Does Your Mother Know. 1980’s Super Trouper was their penultimate record and was when the strains started to show. Even though the material was up to its immense standards: tensions and the rigours of touring was having an effect. The title cut looked at the spotlights (‘Super Trouper’ is a name given to spotlights used for stadium concerts) and the glare of fame. There is the loneliness of the road and the rush of performance: all the ups and downs the band has experienced in the seven years before then. Super Trouper and The Winner Takes It All notched up another two number-ones for ABBA and 1981’s The Visitors looked at the band as isolated outsiders on the edge of dissolving. The album signalled a move from the lighter Pop of previous albums and explored the downsides and pains of splitting – more serious songs and music that dug deeper.
Isolation and regret were themes explored through the album and, for a band that were going through challenges and huge strains – the fact they produced one of their (if not the) best albums of their career was amazing. Unlike other huge bands with a short seven-eight year career (The Beatles springs to mind!) it seemed the best music was being made at the end. It led many to ask why they split and how things had gone bad. The relationships within the group and the demands of their daily lives impacted the harmony within. The Gold: Greatest Hits compilation was released in 1992 and became an instant hit. Over thirty-million copies have been sold and it showed, years after the band’s split, there was a huge appetite for their music. That collection of songs showcase an immaculate band who could pen affirmative music with immense choruses; gorgeous harmonies and some of the finest lyrics in modern Pop – far deeper and more profound than many gave them credit for! One can look at the destruction and break-ups that led to the end of ABBA - we are here to celebrate and commemorate. The ABBA: Super Troupers exhibit is a must-visit for any fans of the band: anyone who is a newcomer to the music should go and see what made the songs shine; how the band came to be and what drove their world. It gives an insight into a once-in-a-generation group who changed music and laid down some of the finest Pop music ever. Maybe they will not back together but they have, in their short career, transformed music and inspired legions of artists. Visit the Southbank Centre and listen to the music; revel in the glamour, glory and gold that means their 1970s/1980s-produced music…
REMAINS treasured and relevant to this very day.