MOOPY ALBUM SYNC LISTENS #4 - ABBA - THE VISITORS - 8PM TUESDAY 28/04

octophone

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Again, this week's album is by popular demand and we will be turning an ear to Abba's classic final album.



EDIT: 28/04 - The original album had 9 songs, finishing with "Like An Angel Passing Through My Room". We're going to follow the Deluxe edition as per the above Spotify link (thanks @lolly) which has 16 tracks in total, including "Under Attack" and "The Day Before You Came", thus giving a complete picture of Abba's final period as a group.

A YouTube playlist, lovingly assembled by @Ag is here:

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLVsnzQs11o6ZGrwRzxO9W5VetayhZNb0s

From Wikipedia:

Recording began on what was to become ABBA's final studio album on 16 March 1981. By this time, tensions in ABBA had heightened. Björn Ulvaeus and Agnetha Fältskog had divorced the previous July, while the band's other couple, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, announced their divorce in February 1981, adding strain to the musical partnership. Ulvaeus mentioned in retrospect that the sessions were troubled, noting, "It could be frosty sometimes." Lyngstad also commented that they were beginning to tire of working together.
 
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octophone

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Proposed schedule:

05/05 - #5 - Mariah Carey - Butterfly
12/05 - #6 - Garbage - Version 2.0
19/05 - #7 = Kylie Minogue - Kylie Minogue (1997) a/k/a Impossible Princess

Going beyond that would be getting ahead of ourselvest but we have many fine suggestions in the clip, including Lady Gaga, Erasure, PJ Harvey, Lana Del Rey and others besides.
 

lolly

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Can I just check if we're doing the original album, or one of the reissues with bonus tracks?

The original album had 9 tracks, ending with Like An Angel Passing Through My Room.

What is seemingly the standard album on Spotify has 4 bonus tracks already. What is listed as the 'deluxe edition' on Spotify has 7 extra tracks.

Normally I'd favour the standard edition only, but denying anyone unfamiliar with the towering majesty that is The Day Before You Came seems utterly unreasonable, even if it was never conceived as part of the album.
 

dmlaw

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The version of the album that I have has thirteen tracks, so that would get my vote.
 

Ag

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Yes it has Laugh, Day, Cassandra, Under, Owe, City and Twinkling as extras.
 

lolly

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So we're going for this one, however people choose to listen to it? It's the same as the deluxe physical CD.

 

octophone

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Thanks @lolly - before we start, I'll see if I can find a YouTube playlist that matches the Spotify order. Meantime, I'm going to pop the Spotify into the first post.
 
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octophone

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There doesn't seem to be a YT following the correct 16 song running order. Dagnabbit.
 

lolly

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Carl Magnus Palm wrote the liner notes for the deluxe edition. Unfortunately I can't find them online, and I'm not inclined to type them out, even if I was allowed to touch them.

However, he does have this on his website about the last bonus track 'From a twinkling star to falling angel', which isn't really a track at all, but a record of the evolution of 'Like An Angel Passing Through My Room'.

THE EXTRA BONUS TRACK 'FROM A TWINKLING STAR TO A PASSING ANGEL (DEMOS)'

For long-time ABBA fans, the most sensational inclusion in the package will be the previously unreleased track, ‘From A Twinkling Star To A Passing Angel (demos)’. This is the first time since the Thank You For The Music box set in 1994 that ABBA have opened the doors to the tape vaults to release previously unheard music from the group’s heyday.

‘From A Twinkling Star To A Passing Angel’ traces the evolution of ‘Like An Angel Passing Through My Room’, the closing track on The Visitors. Back in 1981, this particular song was one of the more challenging tunes during original recording sessions for the album. With the first demos and backing tracks being laid down in May 1981, it wasn’t until several different versions later, in November 1981 – only three weeks before the album reached record shops! – that ABBA finally landed on the version heard on the album.

As the Deluxe Edition of The Visitors was put together, ABBA’s Benny Andersson had the idea that it would be interesting to revisit the various recordings of the song and put together a medley. And this he did in October and November of 2011. The nine-minute medley takes us from the very first demo, with vocals by Björn, to a run-through with Benny on electric piano and Frida on lead vocals, similar to the final version. In between are a demo recording by Frida and Benny (on grand piano) with alternate lyrics entitled ‘Another Morning Without You’; a completely different “disco” attempt, played by a full band and with the final lyrics in place; and a ballad interpretation, also with a full band backing, featuring Frida on lead vocals.

At the time of writing, I have only heard this medley twice - this was back in November 2011, just a day or two after Benny had finished it. I don't want to raise expectations, but I have to say that for me it was goose-bump time. I remember back in 2005, when we were putting together the box set The Complete Studio Recordings, and I was listening to the disc of Rarities just to check that all tracks were present and correct. What struck me then was that this was supposed to be a CD of "leftovers" and yet everything sounded absolutely fantastic. I bet there are many bands out there that would die to have recordings like that to throw away. I got the same feeling when I listened to 'From A Twinkling Star To A Passing Angel'. Certainly, you can hear that some of it is "unfinished" or simply early run-throughs, but the "demo" label doesn't really fit each and every track included in the medley. Some of the recordings have progressed far beyond the demo stage, as you can probably tell from the brief descriptions above. And even on the run-throughs Frida and Agnetha are in top form vocally. For what it's worth, then, I really loved hearing this track, and I'm so happy that we're all going to be able to own it, to play and play again.
 

lolly

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Can anyone confirm that the above link works as a playlist?
It's certainly showing okay for me if I click the link. Can't really test it at the moment though, sorry.
 
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lolly

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Pitchfork review from May 2012 (8.6)

A fifth reissue of a 30-year old album needs something remarkable to make fans bite, and EMI promised just that for The Visitors-- ABBA's final album would now host their first piece of unreleased material since 1994. The Swedish pop goliaths have been quietly protective of their legacy over the last three decades-- no reunions and tight archival control-- so the new song made headlines. Would "From a Twinkling Star to a Passing Angel" be an unreleased gem or a justly forgotten offcut?

Actually, it's neither; instead, it's a good argument as to why exactly there's nothing left in the vaults. The twee-est title in ABBA's, and possibly pop's history, hides a fascinating, carefully arranged montage showing the group's craftsmanlike side. They take album closer "Like an Angel Passing Through My Room" from its birth as a re-arrangement of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" to its release as a twilit meditation on mortality. None of the many versions-- disco, nursery rhyme, strings-attached-- are as good as the final release. The medley seems designed to show both ABBA's punctilious approach to getting a track right, and their good judgement in knowing when they'd managed it. Even as the band's commercial star faded and its professional relationships quietly unravelled, they were perfectionists.

ABBA's music on The Visitors is more pristine and ambitious than it had ever been, its themes darker, its personal politics more tangled. Both of the band's couples had divorced, but the men were still writing lyrics for the women to sing-- meaning it's easy to see a cruel edge in tracks like "One of Us", in which a woman regrets her new independence over a typically gorgeous melody. All of this has made The Visitors a perennial critic's favorite. It's the record on which the wintry melancholy of "late ABBA"-- whose sadness had bubbled under their music almost from the start-- could finally dominate.

But things are never quite so simple. The original nine tracks that make up The Visitors are no less uneven than any ABBA full-length; in fact, the weakest songs are a snapshot of their foibles as a group. They had a long dalliance with musical theatre-- the pomp-pop fantasia "I Let the Music Speak" is their last and most bloated attempt. "Two for the Price of One"-- a hokey story of a failed threesome-- calls back to their earliest, goofiest records. "Slipping Through My Fingers", about the impotence of watching your kids grow up, is a great example of how the group had come to pitch records at adults, but in execution it's pure schmaltz.

The highs, though, are astonishing. The title track is a snapshot of life in a totalitarian state, full of justified paranoia and exhausted fatalism: "I hear the doorbell ring" it begins matter-of-factly "and suddenly the panic takes me." The music lurches between seasick synth-pop and nervous disco flourishes, with Frida Lyngstad's raga-infuenced vocals rolling uneasily on top. It's five years and a musical lifetime since this band sung "Dum Dum Diddle", but for all its distance from ABBA's traditional sound, "The Visitors" never gives up on catchiness. This is grown-up, risk-taking pop, but always pop nonetheless.

The same goes for the record's other strong songs-- the ghostly "Like an Angel Passing Through My Room", the cryptic "Soldiers", the wise and sympathetic "When All Is Said and Done". Aurally, too, the group was never better: The Visitors is deliciously crisp, layered, and rewarding where a lot of contemporary synth-pop now sounds rather thin. Some of the band's latter-day weaknesses have been ironed out-- their rather awkward relationship with disco, for instance. Their "disco LP," Voulez-Vous, was marked by a noticeable stiffness: By the time of The Visitors ABBA hadn't got any funkier, but they had learned to use their unyielding rhythms creatively, turning their dance-pop into something intriguingly angular and staccato on "I Am the City" and "You Owe Me One".

Those songs are both included on the reissue as bonus tracks-- indeed The Visitors' set of bonus material is uniformly terrific, turning a fine album into a great one. "Cassandra", like "The Visitors", is a cryptic sketch of unspecified political disaster, given devastating dignity by Frida's measured vocals. "Under Attack" and "I Am the City" are clockwork jewel boxes of hooks. "Should I Laugh or Cry", a puncturing of a pompous husband and dead marriage, takes all the spite of their famous divorce songs and turns it back on the men to wounding effect. And-- leaving out "From a Twinkling Star"'s exercise in archaeology-- The Visitors ends with career highlight "The Day Before You Came", Agnetha singing a woman's hesitant reconstruction of the day before she met someone we assume is her lover. The details are banal, but Agnetha makes them live anyway, and they're contrasted by keening backing vocals of such dread that it's been speculated the song's "You" is killer, not partner.

"The Day Before You Came" is, on paper, a happier song than "The Visitors", but it shares its themes with much of the album: Life is unstable, happiness may be fleeting, and your world can be instantly and forever overturned. These are strong, resonant ideas to end a career on, and this is an excellent way to finish-- a band and a record divided between almost throwaway studio mastery and spectral, uneasy premonitions of their own demise.
 

lolly

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I think musically and lyrically 'The Visitors' (the track) will resonate pretty heavily at the moment. The sense of claustrophobia created is almost tangible.

I hear the doorbell ring and suddenly the panic takes me
The sound so ominously tearing through the silence
I cannot move, I’m standing numb and frozen
Among the things I love so dearly
The books, the paintings and the furniture, help me

The signal’s sounding once again and someone tries the doorknob
None of my friends would be so stupidly impatient
And they don’t dare to come here any more now
But how I loved our secret meetings
We talked and talked in quiet voices, smiling

Now I hear them moving, muffled noises coming
Through the door, I feel I’m crackin’ up
Voices growing louder, irritation building
And I’m close to fainting, crackin’ up

They must know by now I’m in here trembling
In a terror evergrowing, crackin’ up
My whole world is falling, going crazy
There is no escaping now, I’m crackin’ up

These walls have witnessed all the anguish of humiliation
And seen the hope of freedom glow in shining faces
And now they’ve come to take me, come to break me
And yet it isn’t unexpected
I have been waiting for these visitors, help me

Now I hear them moving, muffled noises coming
Through the door, I feel I’m crackin’ up
Voices growing louder, irritation building
And I’m close to fainting, crackin’ up

They must know by now I’m in here trembling
In a terror evergrowing, crackin’ up
My whole world is falling, going crazy
There is no escaping now, I’m crackin’ up

Now I hear them moving, muffled noises coming
Through the door, I feel I’m crackin’ up
Voices growing louder, irritation building
And I’m close to fainting, crackin’ up

(I have been waiting for these visitors)
They must know by now I’m in here trembling
In a terror evergrowing, crackin’ up

(I have been waiting for these visitors)
My whole world is falling, going crazy
There is no escaping now, I’m crackin’ up

(I have been waiting for these visitors)
Now I hear them moving, muffled noises coming
Through the door, I feel I’m crackin’ up

(I have been waiting for these visitors)
Voices growing louder, irritation building
And I’m close to fainting, crackin’ up

(I have been waiting for these visitors)
They must know by now I’m in here trembling
In a terror evergrowing, crackin’ up
 
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octophone

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I'm getting quite excited for this one now.

I don't want my personal taste to lead this and I'm keen to hear things for the first time. Totally into the decisions being communal.
 
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lolly

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For all that Pitchfork review calls Slipping Through My Fingers schmaltzy (and I can't deny it is pretty saccharine), it is absolutely devastating in Mamma Mia the musical. If I was a parent it would ruin me, I'm sure.

What happened to the wonderful adventures
The places I had planned for us to go
Well, some of that we did, but most we didn't
And why, I just don't know
 

Ag

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Who's here then? 5 min warning. I don't see it getting Britney levels FOR SHAME
 

Gangsta Nancy Lam

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ABBA were my favourite group as a kid, but this is alien territory to me, so I'm looking forward to delving in.
 
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dmlaw

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I'm here and will be running about trying be on the right track between CD and YouTube. If I'm not making any sense, that will be why.
 

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