The Singles - The First Ten Years


Polygram Records, 1982



According to my mother, I was an Abba fan since I was one. All she had to do to make me sleep was put this album on the tape deck and I'd curl up in front of the speakers. I don't remember a word of what they sang (I started learning English when I was four) but I wouldn't blame my (even more) younger self if I was impressed.

This tape is almost twenty years old but the sound quality is crystal (they don't make 'em like they used to). These days, put the words "European" and "dance" together and you get, well, "crap". The passionless airheaded-ness of Ace of Base, the half-hearted Spice Girls; although good groups like the Real McCoy manage to produce good tracks now and then, the so-called Techno Revolution has left old-fashioned power choruses and acoustic instruments in the dust.

Believe it or not, what makes this album work is part of what makes Alanis Morissette so pleasing to the ear (Morissette ... you know, with the long brown hair). Alanis Morissette started out as a dance artist, so it's conceivable she ported some of the concepts to "Jagged Little Pill". What you got was essentially good dance music with a rock twist. Addictive choruses. Addictive lyrics. Throw in some good acoustic riffs and you have Alanis' World.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

With a title like "Super Trouper", you'd think its silliness would work against it. But like many songs by Abba, it's fresh and sincere. The instruments emit a human-played warmth (for one thing, the drummer rushes a little) which really works for the sound, centering on expressing emotions than expressing beauty. This is more evident in the inspired anthem "The Winner Takes It All" and the powerfully desolate "Knowing Me, Knowing You", but most noticeable in the incomparable "Dancing Queen" (remember? "You can dance / you can die / having the time of your life"); total youth radiation poisoning back in the cold war years. Nowadays we have to settle for Garbage.

Some songs miss their mark, like "The Name Of The Game" which tries to be another "The Winner Takes It All" but fails despite a promising chorus; everything else is working against it. "S.O.S." is lukewarm, and this time the theme does deteriorate sincerity.

Tributes to 70's disco "Gimmie, Gimmie, Gimmie" and "Summer Night City" definitely brings about a more sophisticated dimension to Abba's talents by laying off with lyrics and concentrating on beat, beat, beat. And the three ballads "I Have A Dream", "Fernando", and "Chiquita" are no lesser in quality. Nowadays three ballads out of 15 tracks would be considered an atrocity, but here it only adds to the lyrical beauty of the trio.

Of course, their trademark let's-just-dance songs must not go unmentioned. Made semi-popular today by the aforementioned brunette Morissette, "Take A Chance On Me" (it was part of her set in some concerts) tops the category with "Waterloo" coming a close second. I just love the lyrics like "The history book on the shelf / is always repeating itself" (sure beats "if you wanna be my lovah / you have got to give / taking is too easy but that's the way it is", which technically doesn't even rhyme). "I Do, I Do, I Do" and "Mamma Mia" are perfect themselves even to my nineties-tuned ear (can you notice it? The instruments sound like mono, sorta).

I try not to give out so many A grades (in "The Daily Vault", a B is a compliment) under Mr. Thelen's nose but some albums simply deserve more. The Singles - The First Ten Years captures plenty of potential without being stingy or reserved. It's just good stuff; call me starved in the nineties, but the saddest thing about it is that the era of good dance has deteriorated to a lot of mm-bopping and devoid-of-passion love songs on cocaine. Curled up in front of that speaker, all I had to think about then was going to sleep.

Rating: A-

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© 1997 JB and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Polygram Records, and is used for informational purposes only.