The kind of liner notes I would like to read myself

Published May 06, 2011

Depending on which type of music consumer you are, the liner notes included with a CD reissue are either some boring essay which you have no time for, or something that adds real value to the product. I fall into the latter category: whenever I buy an album I love delving into the liner notes, reading the background stories on the songs included on the album as well as historical facts on the artist in question. And when I write liner notes myself, that’s what I want to offer the readers as well.

At the risk of stating the obvious, there is no universal agreement on exactly what a set of liner notes should be like. Back in the early vinyl days, they often consisted of some kind of hype about the artist, but could also feature, say, an interesting report from a recording session. With the CD age and the boom in the reissue market, the in-depth liner notes became a requirement, part of the raison d’être of the lavishly packaged box set as well as the re-release of the classic album.

Sometimes, of course, modern-day liner notes are actually not very in-depth at all. Some writers – or perhaps the record companies giving the assignment to the writers – seem to prefer to limit their essay to a few superficial notes on the artist, or a reflection upon the music and/or the era in which it was originally issued. I know that I’ve been disappointed a number of times, when I expected to learn about the making of a particular album and instead was confronted with the writings of someone who seemed to be in love more with his or her own prose than the music contained on the album. Admittedly, sometimes there have probably been space restrictions preventing the writer from sharing all the knowledge and insight he or she might possess – or time restrictions (“can you please write an essay for this album, we want it tomorrow morning”) leaving very little time for any kind of research. In those cases, I guess the only reasonable way out is to throw together a general appreciation of the album and hope for the best.

As someone who’s written a fair number of liner notes over the years, I’ve sometimes had to deal with the space restriction issue, but fortunately there has always been time to do the research. Quite simply, I try to write the kind of liner notes I would like to read myself. I’m sure there are ABBA fans who would prefer me to devote more space to gushing prose, praising the group and its individual members to the skies, but I have to admit I’m not very interested in that. I think it goes without saying that the music is great, and although I may add a superlative here and there I’m mainly writing for those who want to learn the background stories, as well as getting some insight into the feelings and opinions of those who actually wrote and recorded the music.

From the time we started putting together the Deluxe Editions of ABBA’s studio albums I’ve had a field day. With 28 pages in the booklet, this allows me to really stretch and tell a full story. Of course, I still end up wanting if not a further 28 pages at least a couple more, because there is somehow never enough room for all the facts, stories and reflections I want to include in the liner notes. However, it’s probably a good thing that there are some space restrictions, because I have certainly read some CD liner notes that just go on for too long and have too many details – indeed, I do believe I’ve been guilty of this indulgence myself on a few occasions. [Update, March 6, 2014: For the Deluxe Editions of Ring Ring and Waterloo, I've been restricted to a 20-page booket.]

The essays included with the Deluxe Editions for the Voulez-Vous and Super Trouper albums have benefitted greatly from the brand new interviews with ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, conducted especially for these projects. Sadly, however, the two women of ABBA don’t feel like they have anything to say about the albums, or perhaps simply have no desire to look back on the ABBA years in this context. I can sort of understand that – Björn and Benny wrote and produced the music, and therefore they will have more insights to share about its creation. But I think I speak for most ABBA fans when I say that it would be great if Agnetha and Frida took a greater part in the present-day re-telling of the ABBA years – not just in my liner notes, but in general.

As this is published, Super Trouper Deluxe Edition is just making its way into the record shops and online stores. Over the years I have recounted the ABBA story in writing so many times that it’s often hard to find anything new to say about it – the story is what it is, and I can’t change the course of history just to make the liner notes more interesting. However, I do always try to come up with a few new facts or comments, or try to find a slightly different angle on certain aspects of the story. Needless to say, for the Voulez-Vous and Super Trouper Deluxe Editions, Björn and Benny’s contributions have been a great help in these endeavours. [Update March 6, 2014: Björn and Benny were also interviewed for the liner notes included with Waterloo Deluxe Edition, ABBA Deluxe Edition and The Visitors Deluxe Edition.]

The liner notes for Voulez-Vous Deluxe Edition have just been added to the site, should you wish to read or re-read them. If you’re buying Super Trouper Deluxe Edition, I hope you’re going to have the time and inclination to read my essay for it – and if you do, I hope you will enjoy it.


Typeface shock revelation

Published October 27, 2010

Although I'm not a designer by trade, I find the question of different typefaces quite interesting: their usage, what they may signify, why one looks good and another looks crap, and so on. Yes, I even watched the documentary about Helvetica.

In the latest issue of The Word magazine, they've interviewed Simon Garfield, author of a new book entitled Just My Type. They've also asked him to comment on a few examples of a typeface being used in completely different contexts. I must admit, I wasn't aware that Nirvana (the rock band) and Mamma Mia! (the musical) both use the same typeface for their logos. It's called Bodoni.

I'm not sure that there are any clever conclusions to be drawn from this fact, but Garfield says that the typeface is "classic and built to last but also modern and spiky". So is that something that would apply to both Nirvana and Mamma Mia?

Let The Music Speak

Published September 21, 2010

About four years ago I was contacted by Chris Patrick, a professional musician whom I'd only met once before, when he visited Stockholm in 1997. This time, in 2006, Chris wanted to discuss a pet project of his, namely a book that analysed ABBA's music in detail. Naturally, I was quite interested in his project, not least since I knew that many fans had wanted such a book for several years. Compared to many of the other legendary acts in the history of pop music, the ABBA book shelf is still pretty slim, so the addition of such a book - something that really hadn't been attempted before - to the ABBA fans' library would be most welcome.

I know that Chris worked very hard, and at great personal sacrifice, to make his book become reality. Along with Ian Cole I read through a couple of drafts of the manuscript, and tried to help out wherever I could.

It was a great thrill to finally see the book in print in 2008. Although ABBA - Let The Music Speak is not your ordinary biography, instead going into great detail on the construction of ABBA's songs, Chris' easy prose ensures that it's still a fairly straightforward read. So do yourself a favour and pick up a copy, to gain some fascinating insight into ABBA's musical universe.

Click the link to the right to read the foreword I wrote for the book. And click the link to Chris' website to find out even more about ABBA - Let The Music Speak.

Picture of the day

Published September 17, 2010

Ricchi e Poveri

The auditions for the part of Donna in Mamma Mia! attracted absolutely everyone.