The Visitors liner notes
Published April 05, 2010
The Visitors, released at the end of November 1981, was ABBA's eighth and final full-length album. For the group it had been a complicated LP to put together: they were nearing the end of the ABBA story.
The year of 1981 had started with a bit of sad news. Two years after Björn and Agnetha announced their divorce, Benny and Frida issued a statement that they had also decided to go their separate ways. The world raised its eyebrows at the continued decision on part of all four members to go on recording as ABBA.
But however strange it may seem, they still enjoyed working together in the studio. It was a different kind of relationship between the four now - Björn had remarried in January, and Benny would also tie the knot with a new wife before the year was over - but the Andersson/Ulvaeus songwriting partnership was as solid as ever, and certainly, Agnetha and Frida still knew how to sing. None of the four could see a reason to put a stop to ABBA.
The group's lyrics had become increasingly personal over the past few years, and perhaps no more so than on the first batch of songs written for the new album. 'When All Is Said And Done', recorded in March, featured an emotional lead vocal from Frida. The words detailed the feelings of a couple splitting up - Björn later admitted that Benny and Frida's divorce had coloured much of the lyrics he wrote for the song.
In 'Slipping Through My Fingers', recorded around the same time, Björn was writing more specifically about his own life. The idea for the lyrics came from watching his daughter Linda going away to school - she had started her first year in the autumn of 1980. The experience put Björn in a pensive mood, and he started reflecting on where all the time had passed since Linda's birth. Those thoughts transformed into the lyrics for 'Slipping Through My Fingers', naturally performed by Linda's mother Agnetha. The third title in this group of new recordings, 'Two For The Price Of One', was a more lightweight number, featuring Björn himself on lead vocals. The lyrics were a somewhat bizarre story about a man placing an ad in the personal columns.
After this first session period, ABBA took a break from recording and taped a television special entitled Dick Cavett Meets ABBA. As the title indicates, part of the special consisted of an interview with four members, conducted by the famous American talk show host Dick Cavett. The second half of the programme was then devoted to a live concert, taped in front of a television studio audience. Aside from a string of hits from the past, ABBA performed both 'Slipping Through My Fingers' and 'Two For The Price Of One' during this concert.
A few abortive album sessions followed in May, and it wasn't until September that ABBA were back on track with the album again. Among the songs recorded in the autumn was 'I Let The Music Speak'. With its theatrical mood and shifting sections, it was a song that pointed towards an ambition that Björn and Benny had harboured for several years: to write a musical. Later in 1981, they would have their first meeting with lyricist Tim Rice to discuss such a project. Three years later the trio released the concept album for their musical Chess.
Also recorded during the autumn sessions was the first single from the album, 'One Of Us'. This Agnetha-led track again detailed the effects of splitting up from a partner. In the eyes and ears of the record-buying public it was hard not to conclude that the group members were singing about themselves. 'One Of Us' turned out to be ABBA's last major worldwide hit.
The flipside of the single, 'Should I Laugh Or Cry', featured Frida on lead vocals. It was one of the stronger of ABBA's single B-sides, and over the years it has become something of a cult favourite among the group's most devoted fans. 'Should I Laugh Or Cry' is featured as a bonus selection on this CD.
The Visitors showed that ABBA were evolving into a more mature group. For instance, the lyrics to the atmospheric title track dealt with the dangerous situation for dissidents in the Soviet Union at the time. Like ABBA's albums usually did, The Visitors stormed up the charts most everywhere. It was a number one LP in Great Britain, Sweden, The Netherlands and West Germany, to name but a few countries.
Meanwhile, the ABBA members themselves took an extended break from the group. In January 1982, Björn and Benny both became fathers again, and Frida spent a few months recording her first solo album in seven years, Something's Going On, produced by Phil Collins.
In May the group was back together in the studio again, recording tracks for their next album. But the sessions were not going well. ABBA had begun running out of energy and motivation, not least because Björn and Benny's thoughts were starting to drift towards their prospective musical project with Tim Rice.
The group decided to postpone their album plans. Instead, they would release a compilation double album of their most popular singles from 1973 to 1982. For this purpose they would also record a couple of new tracks that could be released as singles. The songs would also be included on the compilation package, The Singles - The First Ten Years.
In August 1982, ABBA began what turned out to be their very last recording sessions. When they were over, they had produced three new tracks. The first single from these sessions was 'The Day Before You Came' backed with 'Cassandra'. Both tracks have been included as bonus tracks on this CD.
'The Day Before You Came' was the last ABBA track to be recorded, and was arguably one of their finest accomplishments. However, when it was released as a single in October 1982, it met with widely opposing fates. In several European countries it was a convincing Top 5 hit. But in Great Britain, the place that Björn and Benny always regarded as the home of successful, finger-on-the-pulse pop music, the song only peaked just outside the Top 30.
The next single was 'Under Attack', featuring 'You Owe Me One', a recording from the spring, on the B-side. Both sides of the single are bonus selections on this CD. 'Under Attack' was ABBA's last release as an active group, but like 'The Day Before You Came', it didn't fare very well on the charts. It was as if everything was falling into place: ABBA were tired of being ABBA, and the record-buying public had started looking elsewhere for new sounds, new styles and new faces.
The group decided to take a break. Björn and Benny would write their musical together with Tim Rice, and in the meantime Agnetha and Frida would make solo albums. But the break turned out to be permanent. After the Chess musical had been released on record, and then staged in London in the spring of 1986, all motivation to continue with ABBA had disappeared.
The general public seemed to forget about ABBA for a few years, but in the early 1990s things started stirring again. The compilation album ABBA Gold, which has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide at the time of writing, was released in 1992, kickstarting a revival that has since refused to die down.
While Frida and Agnetha have chosen to keep a lower profile as artists for most of this time, Björn and Benny took charge of the ABBA legacy again at the end of 1990s. With the staging of the successful musical Mamma Mia!, based on ABBA songs, they have found a way to let the group's music live on well into the new millennium.