Review : ABBA - The Visitors
PitchforkA fifth reissue of a 30-year old album needs something remarkable to make fans bite, and EMI promised just that for The Visitors-- ABBA's final album would now host their first piece of unreleased material since 1994. The Swedish pop goliaths have been quietly protective of their legacy over the last three decades-- no reunions and tight archival control-- so the new song made headlines. Would "From a Twinkling Star to a Passing Angel" be an unreleased gem or a justly forgotten offcut?
Actually, it's neither; instead, it's a good argument as to why exactly there's nothing left in the vaults. The twee-est title in ABBA's, and possibly pop's history, hides a fascinating, carefully arranged montage showing the group's craftsmanlike side. They take album closer "Like an Angel Passing Through My Room" from its birth as a re-arrangement of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" to its release as a twilit meditation on mortality. None of the many versions-- disco, nursery rhyme, strings-attached-- are as good as the final release. The medley seems designed to show both ABBA's punctilious approach to getting a track right, and their good judgement in knowing when they'd managed it. Even as the band's commercial star faded and its professional relationships quietly unravelled, they were perfectionists.
ABBA's music on The Visitors is more pristine and ambitious than it had ever been, its themes darker, its personal politics more tangled. Both of the band's couples had divorced, but the men were still writing lyrics for the women to sing-- meaning it's easy to see a cruel edge in tracks like "One of Us", in which a woman regrets her new independence over a typically gorgeous melody. All of this has made The Visitors a perennial critic's favorite. It's the record on which the wintry melancholy of "late ABBA"-- whose sadness had bubbled under their music almost from the start-- could finally dominate.
But things are never quite so simple. The original nine tracks that make up The Visitors are no less uneven than any ABBA full-length; in fact, the weakest songs are a snapshot of their foibles as a group. They had a long dalliance with musical theatre-- the pomp-pop fantasia "I Let the Music Speak" is their last and most bloated attempt. "Two for the Price of One"-- a hokey story of a failed threesome-- calls back to their earliest, goofiest records. "Slipping Through My Fingers", about the impotence of watching your kids grow up, is a great example of how the group had come to pitch records at adults, but in execution it's pure schmaltz....full text
WikipediaThe Visitors is the eighth and final studio album by Swedish pop group ABBA, released on 30 November 1981.
With The Visitors, ABBA took several steps away from the "lighter" pop music they had recorded previously and the album is often regarded as a more complex and mature effort. The opening track, "The Visitors", with its ominous synthesizer sounds and the distinctive lead vocal by Frida, announced a change in musical style. With Benny and Frida going their separate ways, the pain of splitting up was explored yet again in "When All is Said and Done". The major hit single on the album, "One of Us" also depicted the end of a love story. Elsewhere there were current cold war themes—highly topical at the time—and further songs of isolation and regret....full text
AllmusicABBA's final album was recorded during a period of major personal shakeups, principally in the decision by Benny Andersson and Frida to follow the same route to divorce that had already been taken by Björn Ulvaeus and Agnetha Faltskog. Both male members of the group would soon remarry, but at the time, despite all of these changes in their circumstances, The Visitors was never intended as ABBA's swan song -- they were to go on recording together. That may explain why, rather than a threadbare, thrown-together feel, The Visitors is a beautifully made, very sophisticated album, filled with serious but never downbeat songs, all beautifully sung and showing off some of the bold songwriting efforts. The title track is a topical song about Soviet dissidents that also manages to be very catchy, while "I Let the Music Speak" sounds like a Broadway number (and a very good one, at that) in search of a musical to be part of, and "When All Is Said and Done" is a serious, achingly beautiful ballad with a lot to say about their personal situations -- even "Two for the Price of One," a lighthearted song sung by Björn Ulvaeus about answering a personal advertisement, offered several catchy hooks and beautiful backup singing. "Like an Angel Passing Through My Room" ended the original album on a hauntingly ethereal note, but not as any kind of larger statement about the quartet's fate. The intention was to keep working together, but Andersson and Ulvaeus' growing involvement with their stage project, Chess, prevented any further work together by the group beyond three songs, "The Day Before You Came," "Cassandra," and "Under Attack" -- they're all present as bonus tracks on the 2001 remastered edition (in gatefold packaging), along with the orphaned B-side "Should I Laugh or Cry" from the same sessions as The Visitors, and only add to the appeal of the original album....full text
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