Benny Andersson's Piano album - a review and some further thoughts

Published October 03, 2017

I usually don't feel compelled to write anything about the former ABBA members' solo projects as they are released, mainly because they are usually being discussed and written about in so many other places that there is little for me to add. I do want to make an exception for Benny Andersson's Piano album, though, as this has triggered quite a few emotions and thoughts within me.

First of all, I really love this album. I don't care whether or not Benny is the most accomplished pianist on the planet - I'll leave that discussion to others - but I do feel it's him I'm hearing here. That may sound like a self-evident observation, but with no belting vocalists, no meticulously worked-out orchestral arrangements and no lyrics loaded with meaning, we're left with the sheer beauty of the melodies.

In one of the many interviews Benny has given to promote the album, he mentions that he and the recording engineer, Linn Fijal, had discussed whether they should make the album sound as if he was performing in a concert hall or simply as if he was sitting in a room, playing the songs. They wisely opted for the room, so that you would feel like you were right there beside him. And that's exactly how it feels for me. When I listen to the album I see Benny and his grand piano in front of me, nothing else.

For similar reasons, my favourite track on Agnetha's A album is 'I Keep Them On The Floor Beside My Bed', the only tune she wrote herself on the album - I hear pure Agnetha instead of some outside producers and songwriters' idea of what she should sound like. Piano is pure Benny, more intimate than anything he's ever done.

My only disappointment with the album is that he didn't include the 1966 Hep Stars hit 'Sunny Girl'. I do realise that it's a difficult fit among the more "worthy" works on the album, but I feel it would have been an appropriate nod to the 19-year-old who'd just discovered that he had the talent to write songs that communicated with people. Maybe I would have opened the album with it, as a sort of "prelude", and then ditched 'Thank You For The Music' which has become ABBA's 'Yesterday' in the sense that it's been heard so often that there is little emotion left to squeeze out of it.

I'm also amazed at all the media Benny has done to make the album known, and I especially like that, because of the nature of the product he's been promoting, many of the interviews have focused on him as a musician and composer. These are the kind of questions he should be asked more often. Just through following the media reports I have gained quite a few new insights, so well done to the people asking the questions and to Benny for agreeing to not only appear on the biggest, lowest-common-denominator TV shows.

Finally, I'm amused that journalist Camilla Lundberg has written the liner notes for the album. Forty years ago she wasn't exactly a fan of Benny's music. In her review of ABBA's Birmingham concert in February 1977 she wrote about their music that, "It is anything but varied, as is well-known. Nor is it beautiful, nor innovative." Admittedly, while more or less dismissing three quarters of the group, she noted that "Benny Andersson is the most interesting ABBA member. He is actually a real musician, he is the most spontaneous and most credible of them," but for the most part the review was a discussion of ABBA as a product, pushing the angle of how everything they did was part of a "plan", as was quite common back then. Lundberg is of course allowed to change her mind about Benny's music, but it still surprises me how critical assessment of ABBA and their members has evolved and changed over the years, to the extent that some of their fiercest critics are now a part of Benny's circle of friends.