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.

ABBA fan clubs - why you should join them

Published April 17, 2014

Now that the storm surrounding the 40th anniversary of ABBA's Waterloo Eurovision victory has subsided somewhat, I thought I'd post some reflections on the ABBA fan clubs out there, or at least a couple of them.

About three weeks ago I was one of the guests at the annual ABBA Day, arranged by The Official ABBA Fan Club in Roosendaal, The Netherlands (affectionately known simply as "Roo" by regular ABBA Day attendees). As you can see in the picture on this page I was interviewed on stage by Stany van Wymeersch (author of the book Let's Talk About ABBA, which, as I've already blogged about, I think you should buy).

I hadn't attended this event in 15 years, and although I was aware that much had changed since then - for one thing, the event has become much bigger - I was pleasantly surprised by the friendly and positive atmosphere throughout the day. Not that I'd expected any unpleasantness, but I was still unprepared for the pure happiness that seemed to inhabit everyone who was there.

It got me thinking what an amazing thing it is that Helga and Anita (who run the ABBA fan club with the aid of a team of collaborators) have created. Just consider this: the fan club started in 1986, when interest in ABBA was at an all-time low: the ABBA Live album, released that year, barely charted and many countries didn't even bother releasing it. Still, such was Helga and Anita's love for ABBA that they didn't really care what the group's current status was. From a platform of virtually nothing, and for almost three decades, they have built up and sustained an organisation that seems to be stronger than ever, and which attracts several hundred people to the ABBA Day each year. And make no mistake, despite having to keep a cool head when running a fan club like this, they are both still fans at heart: when I left the ABBA Day this year, I had to look up Helga on the dance floor to say goodbye.

Now, in this day and age, many people feel they can get all the information and sense of community they need from the internet. I don't agree. Certainly, there are many internet-based organisations doing a fantastic job, but membership in the official fan club not only gives you a quarterly glossy magazine with exclusive interviews and other interesting features not available online, it also gives you the chance to get exclusive tickets to various ABBA-related events and much more. As you can tell from this page, you get all this for a very modest sum. Plus the fan club runs a well-stocked online shop featuring innumerable ABBA items. 

And don't forget the other long-running fan club, ABBA Intermezzo Fan Club, based in Germany and running since 1990. Regina and her team of collaborators put out a quarterly, large-sized magazine, which, like the official fan club, offers interesting interviews and reports. This is also not to be missed and it's not super expensive either (scroll down this page for prices), plus Regina's fan club also have exclusive offers for fans. And both these mags sometimes even have interviews with the ABBA members themselves, as I've blogged about before.

So what are you waiting for? If you're an ABBA fan you should do yourself a favour and join these clubs. You won't regret it.