|1. The Visitors|
|2. Head Over Heels|
|3. When All Is Said And Done|
|5. I Let The Music Speak|
|6. One Of Us|
|7. Two For The Price Of One|
|8. Slipping Through My Fingers|
|9. Like An Angel Passing Through My Room|
|10. Should I Laugh Or Cry|
|11. The Day Before You Came|
|13. Under Attack|
The opener and title track is perhaps the closest they came to emulating the New Wave/Synth Pop explosion of the time. Parts of it are reminiscent of "Summer Night City" (minus the disco) and "Eagle" (without the majesty) but it manages to create an interesting and unsettling sonic landscape all of its own which suggests an encounter of the third kind may very well be waiting behind the locked door (and they must surely score points for creating a pop song about Russian dissidents).
Next up is "Head Over Heals" which treats us to its fairground synths, jaunty chorus and tale of 'goodtime girl gets herself into trouble'. This one is a bit like Agnetha's very own "Money Money Money" and lyrically is possibly a case of Björn, a la Fleetwood Mac, cheekily having his ex sing a song about herself that isn't altogether flattering. Possibly.
"When All is Said and Done" is a standout in the style of "The Winner Takes it All", although it is surprisingly upbeat for a break-up song (and sort of Christmassy) with a positively defiant lead vocal from Frida. A song of shaking hands and walking away, head held high. Bittersweet rather than just plain bitter. It would have made a good, upbeat album closer, and had serendipity played its part properly, the perfect send off for the group: "Thanks for all your generous love and thanks for all the fun ..."
"Soldiers" is, for me, the forgotten gem on this album. Starting sparsely with a vaguely military drum and some admirably restrained guitar to dirty it up a little, it then segues effortlessly from a moody, understated first verse and Agnetha's plaintive lead vocal into the most sublime, unashamedly anthemic chorus, where Frida and Björn join her in some quite beautiful harmonies. As for the enigmatic lyrics: "Soldiers write the songs that soldiers sing, the songs that you and I don't sing ..." What's that all about then? About the need to have the courage of your convictions be it in love or war? Answers on a postcard please. It works for me anyway.
Frida takes centre-stage once more for "I Let the Music Speak" aka "The One That Sounds Like It Belongs On The Soundtrack To Les Miserables Or Similar" (round about the point where some peasant woman stands up in her rags and sings heartrendingly about not having enough parsnips to make soup for her son who's just returned from The War). The lyrics though tell a different story. One of night-time hauntings and astral projection (ABBA staples then). This is no "I Wonder (Departure)". Dark, fanciful and slightly macabre on the verses, the choruses return us to more familiar ABBA territory with Frida displaying her quite formidable vocal prowess throughout.
After that we get "One of Us" and what can I say? It's just gorgeous. Greek tragedy laced with Swedish cool. A happy little drumbeat bouncing playfully along behind Agnetha's wrist-slashing and soaring vocals. A kitchen sink tearjerker in the great tradition of "Knowing Me, Knowing You" (a-ha!) and "The Winner Takes it All" and quite rightly an all-time favourite.
With "Two For the Price of One" the question is always going to be: "Is it as bad as everyone says?". Well, in short, yes. By and large it bears the rare distinction of being an unintentionally funny intentionally funny song. Wait until you hear the "quite exciting" husky voice that answers the mock-telephone (unless there's another layer to this fable which I'm completely missing). The one semi-redeeming feature is the chorus. Some interesting stuff where everyone joins in with some low-key harmonies and thankfully you can no longer tell what they're singing about. Then, just when all the verses are out of the way and you're sure it's safe to tap your foot till the finish, in blunders the Salvation Army and marches the song off to a merciful end.
Luckily, Agnetha is on hand to lead us back to sanity (and wave her child off to school) in the shape of "Slipping Through my Fingers". Saved from mawkishness and total schmaltz by one of those sublime, harmony-heavy choruses and Agnetha's crystal clear voice and heartfelt delivery.
"Like an Angel Passing Through My Room" closes the album proper. It has to be said that, on this album at least, most of the vocal kudos must go to Frida, and she plays a blinder in this last one. Stripped as it is of all sonic clutter - as well as harmonies - when the song begins you'll think, quite astonishingly, that she's singing from the corner of your room. A clock ticks away on the mantelpiece. A music box plays quietly in the background and Frida sings of lying down one last time and welcoming the Angel of Death. Amen.
Of the bonus tracks (all top-notch, especially "Under Attack" which features a good old-fashioned harmonic tussle between Abercrombie & Fitch in the chorus) "The Day Before You Came" is the classic - swirling, rain-drenched synths, a sense of impending doom and tantalisingly (the closing masterstroke) we never find out who - or what - 'you' is. Pop Noir par excellence.
All of the trademarks which made the group so popular are still in place throughout - strong vocals, clever song-structures, barmy lyrics and a healthy smattering of Scandinavian navel-gazing and marital strife. All of it delivered with an icily immaculate production sheen - some of which sounds dated though much of it, due to the solid songwriting, simply timeless. In short, anyone with even the most limited musical palate will find something to enjoy in this album.
The interesting thing with the Abba catalogue is that you can hear their progression from one outting to the next. The Visitors is no exception--- it is infact, the most mature and progressive product they had ever done.
From the gloomy and lonely cover photo (gone are the bombastic outfits) which portrays them as four individual middle aged people looking off into a future without each other (indeed, by this point, the two couples were officially divorced)to the mood of the record's sombre notes, this is not your father's ABBA. The quality of the production, arrangements and performances helps this record, in my opinion, become a model for perfect pop productions. Arguably, a couple of the tracks crossed a line and moved past a traditional pop format (namely I Let the Music Speak and Like an Angel...) but with rich melodies and unparalleled vocal performances, they remain captivating.
This is a record where every member is in top form. Benny's melodies combined with his studio wiserdry, Bjorn's masterful English lyrics (showing a progression beyond anything he had ever written) and Agnetha's cool yet convincing story teller vocals shine beyond many of their earlier performances. But the true star here is Frida who brings a level of emotion and sophistication to her performances that we had never seen before. She manages to find her way through many different production and musical styles and stays believable and true through every note she sings. Listen to her on the bonus track "Should I Laugh or Cry"--- this is a woman who is frustrated and sad--- even if I never hear a lyric, the sound of her rich vibrato tells the whole story.
You don't have to be an ABBA fan to get the meaning of this record--- if you like perfect pop, listen to this... you won't be disappointed.