Vintage review quotes: a new feature in ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions

Published March 24, 2015

With a little over two weeks to go before the crowdfunding campaign for the revised and updated edition of ABBA - The Complete Recording Session ends, now is the time to pre-order this collector's item. If you haven't done so yet, just click here:

One of the new features in the book is the quotes from reviews of ABBA's singles and albums from the time when they were first released. The reviews I've assembled so far have been quite revelatory, and when you bring them together they provide a very clear picture of exactly how ABBA's music was viewed by the media at the time.

Take the Waterloo album, for instance. In Sweden, even the fairly positive reviews had a somewhat begrudging tone, as if the writers wanted to point out that no-one could fool them into thinking that this music had any actual worth. "Naturally, the album will be a so-called monster seller. Because to that end it’s virtually computer programmed, skilfully crafted and in English, naturally," wrote one reviewer, while another stated that "You can hardly accuse Björn & Benny of being especially original; they borrow freely from various places. But they certainly know what sells. They are two skilful craftsmen who write straightforward, commercial chart songs." An acknowledgement of the craftmanship, but at the same time a subtext of "well, so what?"

Compare this with the American reviewers, who seem to have felt that ABBA's arrival on the pop scene was nothing short of a miracle. "Sometimes it takes so long for greatness to be recognized that when it finally happens, most people wonder how such a highly-developed ability sprang into being, seemingly from nowhere," wrote Greg Shaw in Phonograph Record, while Gene Sculatti's review in Zoo World opined that Waterloo was "A fine first shot with variety and freshness, perpetrated by a pair of Scandinavian student princes with big ears and more talent than they can handle." Here, it seems, the craftmanship was not something the reviewers would take for granted, instead regarding it as the point of the entire exercise.

I find all this stuff fascinating. Equally interesting is the fact that none of the two major British music papers, Melody Maker and the New Musical Express, even bothered reviewing the album. For them, I suspect, it was an album recorded by Eurovision Song Contest winners, and therefore automatically not worth wasting print on.

There will be more review quotes in the revised and expanded edition of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions. Pre-order your copy here:


Begrudging admiration: Swedish review of the Waterloo album.