ALTHOUGH I rarely watch it, last Saturday evening the wife and daughter were out and looking to waste an hour or two before Match of the Day, I dipped my toe into the murky waters of the X Factor.
I’m no snob when it comes to good pop music and after hearing the furore that seemed to accompany some bloke called Rylan, I thought as your zeitgeist surfing music commentator it was my job to find out what was going on.
I was initially rather excited to discover that this week’s show was being branded as Abba v Motown night, which for a show basically aimed at children seemed a strange choice.
But this early optimism was soon snuffed out by the sight of Rylan belting his way through Mama Mia whilst surrounded by some large chess pieces (I hope this was an oblique tribute to Benny and Bjorn’s baffling post-Abba Cold War musical Chess, but somehow I doubt it).
Rylan’s performance unfortunately summed up where most people’s perception of the Swedish foursome lies these days. Blame Mama Mia, blame The Adventures of Pricilla, Queen of the Desert, blame Louis Walsh (please blame Louis Walsh) but Abba’s reputation as a camp delight who soundtrack a million bad weddings has been sealed for ever.
Louis summed it up perfectly when he responded to James’ performance of SOS by saying: “I never thought angst and ABBA would go so well together.” Has he never seen the album cover of their last glacially melancholic album The Visitors? Has he never paused to reflect on the heartbreaking post-divorce musings of The Winner Takes It All (later sung on the show with inappropriate whoops by Union J) or has he never watched the video for One of Us, which shows a woman adapting to life in an empty houseafter the breakup of her failed marriage.
Party time eh Louis?
Perhaps unsurprisingly given they come from the land of Ingmar Bergman, high suicide rates and extortionately priced alcohol, Abba were never the disco party band of Louis’ dreams.
Despite the endearing images of them performing the likes of Waterloo and Ring, Ring, Ring, a band built around two couples were always going to face issues as the band’s fame began to affect their relationships.
By 1982, both Benny and Agnetha and Bjorn and Frida had filed for divorce and Abba were making their swansong album The Visitors.
First single The Day Before You Came summed up how things were going in the Abba camp with its numbing list of the pointless tasks we face as we live our miserable lives. Joy Division would have been proud of a song which is about as bleak as pop music gets.
The British public were never quite sure how to take this new look Abba. The Day Before You Came reached number 32 and within months the group had drifted apart permanently.
Although not revealed at the time of its release, the album's title track, according to Ulvaeus, refers to the secret meetings held against the approval of totalitarian governments in Soviet-dominated states, while other tracks address topics like failed relationships, the threat of war, aging, and loss of innocence.
I doubt somehow, that this was in Louis’ mind as he exclaimed “It was like something from ABBA The Musical ”. (I think he means Mamma Mia).
So next time you see Christopher Maloney bellow his way through Fernando spare a thought for Sweden’s best existentialist purveyors of melancholic heartbreak. And turn over.