ABBA and the critics - times have changed

Published April 28, 2014

One of the points I'm making in the revised and updated version of Bright Lights Dark Shadows - The Real Story Of ABBA is how, in general, the average music critic's attitude towards ABBA has changed over the past decades. Back in 2001, when the book was first published, I wrote that ABBA would never be fully accepted as one of the truly important bands. Well, I was wrong. Today, in the UK, 4-star reviews are published of Waterloo, an album that would barely have been tolerated in the first decade of the ABBA revival. As early as 2005, which I also point out in the revised edition of Bright Lights Dark Shadows, the box set The Complete Studio Recordings was afforded a 5-star review. And, of course, these days ABBA are even in The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

This made me remember, not that I've ever quite forgotten it, the two stars afforded the Thank You For The Music box set when it was released in 1994. It's interesting to read the review again, two decades later. It crosses off most of the points required in the typical ABBA review at the time: this is a singles band - check; the studio albums are not worth listening to - check; use of the word kitsch - check.

I recall being quite taken aback by the review. I'd been involved in putting together the box set, and to me it was the next step in the rehabilitation of ABBA. Naïvely, I thought most British music journalists had sort of agreed that ABBA were great and that there were many more songs than the one's featured on ABBA Gold to be rediscovered. "And here's a box set to help you do just that!"

Interestingly, all three reviews mentioned in this blog were published by Q Magazine, albeit by three different reviewers. I don't know if David Cavanagh, who panned Thank You For The Music, has changed his mind about ABBA since 1994 - and my point here is not that people should change their minds just to fit in with the current trends - but I wonder if Q would be quite so willing to publish his review today.