ABBA sounds like ABBA. It’s a sound which is recognisable out of thousands. Many artists tried to imitate ABBA, but ABBA was ABBA was the only one that sounded as ABBA. Partly this is caused by the voices of Agnetha and Annifrid which fitted so beautifully. This is not the least important part of the sound, but there is more. The sound is composed, it fits to a cherished ideal how ABBA should sound. Such a invariant is called a formula. When a formula is succesful, you’d better hold onto it. There is a worldful of differences between the first and the last ABBA songs, but there is one similarity: they sound like ABBA.
On the albums in 1974 (Waterloo) and 1975 (ABBA) the sound is not yet completely settled. The hits sound like ABBA, but it seems to me you hear them searching for the right sound in the other songs. Looking in other directions for variety, for new sounds perhaps. With Arrival the formula was complete, it was clear that ABBA didn’t need a variety in style in order to be original.
After Arrival The Album came. It had a more massive sound then we used to hear from ABBA. The first single from The Album was ‘The name of the game’ and it was less succesful than previous singles. A few singles later ‘Summernight city’ was released and the music of ABBA seemed to get more and more massive. It seemed to be an inevitable continuation, because the instrumental accompaniment became even more wellstuffed. I love the song! It might be the hit sounding the least ABBA-ish, but I love it because of the emotional expression and the fullness of the sound. It’s in my top 5.
Although The Album was their artistic top at the time, they left the track. They reinvented their formula. Voulez Vous sounded different than everything before, but most importantly it sounded really ABBA-ish. It was proficient, to be completely renewing and at the same time to be recognisable as the typical ABBA-sound. They knew to combine the ABBA-formula with originality, which is difficult, because they are oppposite to each other. If you are original, you are different; if you stick to your formula, you remain te same. They knew to find the balance in being original within the frameworks of style, taste and sound.
This is the second of four pieces in a mini-series about competitive challenges. The next one is to appear on december 1st, 2014.
© 2014 Reinhard Beskers