|1. Mamma Mia|
|2. Hey, Hey Helen|
|3. Tropical Loveland|
|5. Man In The Middle|
|7. I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do|
|8. Rock Me|
|9. Intermezzo No.1|
|10. I've Been Waiting For You|
|11. So Long|
|12. Crazy World|
|13. Medley: Pick A Bale Of Cotton/On Top Of Old Smokey/Midnight Special|
By those first three singles, it's easy to guess that ABBA had found their sound with this third album, their eponymous album, and while that's certainly true, this album also reflects the budding songwriting talents of Bjorn and Benny (and manager Stig Anderson, who is credited with six songs). Here, their craft grows by leaps and bounds, as they become able to make the brilliant mockery of "Mamma Mia" and the aforementioned "S.O.S." not just crafty hits of their time like they did with "Waterloo," but pop standards. While the rest of the album may not hit those heights (then again, pop music rarely did), it still maintains the effervescent charm of those two songs, especially in the aforementioned "I Do" and "So Long" (which, for all of its faults, is still a very listenable song) and the Svenne & Lotta-produced "Bang-a-Boomerang."
But the boys still manage to get a few highlights on this album, as Bjorn is featured on lead vocals on "Rock Me" (where he's hamming but getting away with it) and "Man in the Middle" (which is too formless to really catch hold), and Benny is able to show his musical craft on the fine instrumental number "Intermezzo No. 1." The fact that these three songs are not as good as Agnetha and Frida's highlights (their five aforementioned songs) doesn't actually illustrate Bjorn and Benny's shortcomings as musicians- instead, it shows that they were evolving into great songwriters in their own right, since their three contributions are still well-crafted songs. They help add weight to this uneven but strong album and prove that its major success was well deserved. And thankfully, ABBA would expand on their newfound craft on their next album.
[In 2001, ABBA's studio albums were given a much-needed remastering, reissued in digipaks, complete with liner notes by Carl Magnus Palm, pictures of the band around the time of the corresponding album, and in the case of the ABBA album, two bonus tracks: the unremarkable "Crazy World" (another Bjorn lead-vocal) and an enjoyable but rather unrevelatory medley of traditional songs: "Pick a Bale of Cotton," "On Top of Old Smokey," and "Midnight Special."
First, the song that became ABBA's second #1 UK hit and the eleven-week Aussie hit: "Mamma Mia" with its bursts of guitar, catchy dual harmony vocals by Agnetha and Frida, and synths that have a slightly classical tinge to it. One thing in learning about these guys is that they were a big hit in Australia, small wonder then that this song and other ABBA references were heard in the Adventures of Priscilla movie, Australian, of course.
The worldwide hit and third single, "SOS" featuring a pleading vocal from Agnetha set amid the usual awash guitar and synth, was considered by many to be ABBA's first classic single, but I tend to give that honour to "Waterloo."
The slower-paced "Hey Hey Helen," punctuated by a hard rock guitar and bass, portrays the cost of a woman who's free from the responsibilities of motherhood and getting that second chance, at the cost of leaving behind her husband and children. A song fitting with the rise of feminism in the 70's. And at least alternative group Lush saw fit to cover it on their Gala album.
The mid-paced "Tropical Loveland" is their shot at reggae. Some Stevie Wonder-like keyboards and guitar open the Bjorn-sung "Man in the Middle," about something really living the life of Riley, "drinking champagne in his limo" having lots of servants in his mansion, no conscience, and someone who deals with the Devil.
The galloping rhythm section and scat-like words used in the chorus of "Bang-A-Boomerang" make this another favourite. They wrote the song for a Swedish group who lost out in the Eurovision Song Contest, and thought it was too good to let go to waste. So do I. Like "SOS," and "Mamma Mia," there was a promo clip for this one, and the next song.
With a title like "I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do," one wonders if the song's about five people at the wedding altar. It isn't, but it does involve emotional commitment. Soundwise, think of a country song with a sax instead of a steel guitar. They got inspiration from 50's orchestra leader Billy Vaughn's sax-laden music. This was another #1 Australian single. It's B-side, the Bjorn-sung "Rock Me," peaked at #4 and one wonders if his voice was in shreds the way he shrieked the vocals.
The instrumental "Intermezzo No. 1" is a brisk, racing classical-like piece incorporating electric guitar, synths, and orchestral strings. It's well-named, as in classical music, an intermezzo is a short orchestral piece or movement separating major sections of a symphony, or in this case, separating two songs.
"I've Been Waiting For You" is my favourite song here, showing Agnetha putting her all, backed by string-synths and acoustic guitar. The mood's quiet when she sings "And finally it seems my lonely days are through," then she and Frida lay out the title to as close as operatic splendour as they can.
"So Long" is a more jamming rocker, with a protagonist unimpressed by a showoff's fancy car and money, not even flowers. One particular line has three rhyming words, an interesting rhyming device: "Tracy, Daisy, they may be crazy." The band's accompanying lower-register harmonies singing "honey honey" or "money money" is a direct contrast to Agnetha's vocals.
"Crazy World" is my second favourite song, as it's a leisurely ballad sung by Bjorn about a guy who gets a rude surprise when he sees a man closing his girl's front door. However, it's not what it seems, fortunately, but he realizes that yes, it is a crazy world. It was originally the B-side of Arrival's "Money Money Money."
The traditional folk medley done at the end has ABBA's brisk arrangements on "Pick A Bale Of Cotton," something not so PC now, while more relaxing sounds permeate "On Top Of Old Smokey" and an Elton John like rocker on "Midnight Special" which rounds out one of the quartet's best albums.
Remastered on CD and sounding even better, buy it for the bonus tracks previously only available as b-side vinyls (eg Crazy World).