Abba and the Aberrations

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), November 14, 1999 | Go to article overview

Abba and the Aberrations


Byline: TIM DE LISLE

Many people will have missed Abbamania, last weekend's ITV tribute, because they were out at firework displays.

It may not have made much difference: at the fireworks I went to, the music was all by Abba.

The West End musical based on the group's songs, Mamma Mia!, has taken [pounds sterling]15 million at the box office since opening in April and is expected to run for at least five years. It opens in Toronto in May and will conquer the world soon afterwards.

Few parties are complete without an Abba tribute band, of which there are now reckoned to be about 20, and for many people the turn of the Millennium, like Bonfire Night, will take place to the strains of Super Trouper.

When the year's best-selling albums are announced in a few weeks' time, the compilation Abba Gold is certain to be among them, despite being seven years old. Somehow, a group from Sweden who broke up in 1982 - and who were by no means everyone's cup of tea at the time - have become the best-loved band in Britain in 1999.

Abbamania indeed. It is not so much a revival as a whole second career.

Why has it happened? Earlier this year, I put this to the two members of the group who wrote the songs, Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus.

'No idea,' said Benny, who is now a grandfather. 'I'd like to know!' If they had been less modest, they could have said they wrote great, timeless songs, had two very good singers in Agnetha Faltskog and Frida Lyng-stad, and applied a fiendish attention to detail. Their songs developed from high-class fluff to little models of depth and subtlety which exude a gorgeous sadness.

It has clearly helped that Abba have never got back together. They are the one band you believe when they say that they won't reform, not least because Agnetha (the blonde one) lives the life of a recluse on an island off Stockholm and has made it clear that she hated performing live.

It has also helped that Andersson and Ulvaeus have a strong sense of Abba as a brand. Throughout the 12 years the group was together, and the 17 years since, they have maintained strict quality control. When dance producers ring from New York asking for permission to remix Dancing Queen, they are invariably refused. …

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