“ABBA Live” Review

“ABBA Live” cover.

1) Dancing Queen; 2) Take A Chance On Me; 3) I Have A Dream; 4) Does Your Mother Know; 5) Chiquitita; 6) Thank You For The Music; 7) Two For The Price Of One; 8) Fernando; 9) Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight); 10) Super Trouper; 11) Waterloo; 12) Money Money Money; 13) The Name Of The Game/Eagle; 14) On And On And On.

8 out of 10

ABBA may have broken up in 1982, but there is always a demand for product from bands such as these. While the girls ended up getting a few hits on their own, they happily and eagerly retired after awhile. The boys created their rather ambitious “Chess” musical (which I won’t review because I don’t think I could do a musical justice) that did well as an album but failed on Broadway. The band insisted they’d never get together again, not even for a one-off concert. They’ve stuck to this, even in spite of an alleged offer to reunite for 2 fucking billion dollars.

Sorry for the swear but that’s just shocking to me. I got to give the band credit for resisting coming together for a huge paycheck. But their resistance to putting out new product has lead to a steady stream of greatest hits, box sets, album remasters, collections of their Spanish tracks (two CD’s worth!) and even a rather disposable and crappy musical and movie based on their music. Almost all of these have been ignorable (with the exception of the remastered albums, which often feature a ton of hard to find bonus tracks).

Perhaps the first of these releases was 1986’s “ABBA Live.” Many fans ignored this album as they simply couldn’t imagine ABBA being a worthwhile band. In fact, the band has only released it a handful of times on CD and has not updated it or packed it with any of their studio album collections.

This is a shame because the album isn’t really that bad. Yes, it has a slight downgrade because ABBA is simply not made to be appreciated live. At least not in an audio form: the live footage available of the band show an energetic, geeky and visually appalling (yet entertaining) show that would have been a lot of stupid fun to see.

But the truth is the band is simply one of those bands that was made for studio perfection. This problem plagued the Beach Boys too but might have been worse for them because the musicians that played on their albums were usually NOT the same musicians who played the music live. In other words, they used a lot of studio musicians.

Not to say that ABBA didn’t use studio musicians: after all, Frida wasn’t rocking down those basslines while Agnetha pulled a Karen Carpenter and drummed her way through the sessions. No, ABBA used sessions musicians to create a full, rich and immaculately produced and played sound.

The advantage ABBA had over the Beach Boys was that their touring band was also their studio band. And that they basically used the same studio band for nearly all of their recordings, only swapping out a musician or two for a few different sessions and album dates. These musicians helped contribute to making ABBA’s sound as rich, alive and yet coherent as possible. It also helped ensure the band sounded good live.

And they do sound good, even as you miss all the little details from the studio recordings. I won’t really go into individual track reviews because that’s rather silly for such an album: all of the tracks are played with plenty of energy and verve but aren’t really transformed into anything special by the live atmosphere.

One track that does benefit from this update is “Does Your Mother Know?” which goes from a dinky but high energy rocker into one of the most ferocious numbers the band ever played. It’s still a creepy as shit song but it’s so easy to get carried away by the energy and joy of the song that it’s easy to forgive the lyrics.

It’s cool to see that the band was also willing to play two of their most complex numbers (“The Name of the Game” and “Eagle”) live but is such a shame to see them crammed together in such an ugly way. It’s also a shame that “Eagle” loses so much of its beautiful atmosphere in a live setting. The band really works its ass off to make it work but they fall just a little too short of the goal to make it worthwhile.

All of the rockers on the album (such as “On and On and On” and “Take a Chance On Me” have increased energy, speed and excitement but lack all the intricacies that made them such fun songs. The ballads such as “Chiquita” do qualify as good thanks to the intimacy of the atmosphere but the children’s choir on “I Have a Dream” sounds and looks as tacky as always.

But on the other hand, its amazing that any of the songs sound convincing at all. After all, wouldn’t ABBA be one of those premiere studio bands? Yes, I’m sure some over dubbing was done here, but don’t the girls just sound amazing? Like, perfectly in pitch and perfectly in control of their voices? That is quite an accomplishment considering the stuff they are singing.

Plus, it’s amazing to hear Benny really let loose with some true fast paced keyboard playing. The man goes absolutely ape-shit and I lament that they didn’t include “Intermezzo No. 1” (found in the “ABBA: Movie”) as it is truly a joy to watch the man play. Lasse Hallendar (the band’s lead guitarist) is also given room to shine and while his solos don’t exactly sound better than the studio work they all sound great.

Bjorn does serve as something of the weak point in the band live: he has always been an inconsistent vocalist (he makes an ass out of himself on “Two for the Price of One” although he sounds great barking out “Does Your Mother Know?”) and his guitar playing has always been competent but mostly rudimentary rhythm work.

So, is this album worth a listen? I’d say so but it’s not for anybody but the most dedicated ABBA enthusiasts. Casual fans will hate the live sound and “imperfections” while hardcore fans will delve into the little details and try to relive ABBA’s live glory days. Plus, I got it for five bucks (and I’ve seen it cheaper) so it’s not as if you’d be set back as much as collecting the band’s studio albums (though those box sets can be purchased for under 50 bucks on some sites).

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About Culture Fusion Reviews

A multi-effort web review periodical of varied cultural landmarks curated by Eric Benac: freelance writer, journalist, artist, musician, comedian, and 30-ish fellow caught in and trying to make sense of the slipstream of reality.

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