Thursday, 29 January 2009

News, Views and Music Issue 19 (Top Five): Notable One-Off AAA Gigs

And now, in honour of the 40th anniversary of the Beatles’ ‘rooftop’ performance we celebrate five weird and wonderful one-off gigs from AAA groups:

5)  The cream talents of the day from around the world (including the Moody Blues and The Who at the peak of their powers) and a huge fan following gathered together to celebrate the AQuarious age of peace, harmony and rock and roll during a festival at the only backdrop that could possibly hope to reflect their amazing talents – The Isle Of Wight. No, honest, that isn’t a mis-spelling – and yes it really is the English Isle of Wight! No more muddy American fields for these intrepid travellers – just one big muddy English one instead and a chance to show rock fans from all over the world just how much it really does rain on our shores! Add in the fact that bands, fans, roadies and equipments all had to be transported by boat, the fact that ‘paid’ festivals were becoming deeply unpopular by 1970 (‘Woodstock’ started a trend for ideas that ‘music should be free’ which lead to one section of the audience tearing down the fences round the site to get in without paying) and the fact that nobody had really bothered to check with irate local residents if it was OK and this quirkily English idea of simplicity suddenly turns into a recipe for disaster. See the ‘Message to Love – The Isle of Wight Festival’ DVD for more on what a social disaster this festival proved to be (but also how good the music was!)

4) There are tiny ewoks on the stage, furry creatures who seem to love dancing in-between fetching and carrying things, dwarfed by the biggest examples of speakers and microphones you will ever see. Most people disbelieve me when I tell them, but yes these funny little ‘roadeye’ creatures really were based on ewoks - their tame cousins the ewok ninjas live in Mike’s closet so I should know one when I see one! The artist is, of course, Neil Young and the venue is the Cow Palace, USA during the Young ones’ 1979 ‘Rust Never Sleeps’ tour. Much as I don’t want to spoil the magic for those who haven’t yet seen the DVD, we at the AAA can reveal that the creatures involved were actually the lesser-spotted roadie dressed up in furry costumes and hoods. One of those who took part at this concert and others on the tour gave what I consider to be one of my favourite musical quotes of all time: ‘You know, Neil’s the only goddamn guy I’d ever wear this hood for – then again, Neil’s the only goddamn guy who’d ask me too!’

3) Re-named the Beatles, they thought nothing to playing crowds of 30,000 screaming fans and held the record for the biggest single rock and roll crowd of all time for five whole years (Shea Stadium 1965 – beaten by CSNY during their 1970 ‘stadium tour’). Yet just a few years earlier, back in 1957, the Quarrymen were struggling to stand up-right in the back of a moving truck, playing to a small handful of locals, three dogs and some of the band members’ mothers. The Woolton Village Fete of 1957 is now surely the most famous village fete in history (for those who don’t know, it was the gig where the 16-year-old Lennon and 14-year-old McCartney met for the first time) – but at the time being only the seventh most important event of the day (behind the local brass band and a dog show) must have hurt. The gig sounds like a difficult if mildly triumphant one - Lennon forgot the words to the Del Vikings’ ‘Come Go With Me’, forcing him to improvise some lyrics about a trip to a ‘penitentiary’ and the truck carrying the band drowned out their skiffle-playing for anyone not standing right next to it – but despite all that, what Beatles fan wouldn’t book this event as one of their top ten time machine visits of all time?

2) The ruined Roman auditorium in Pompeii must have seen some amazing sights during its two-thousand-year lifespan, not least the eruption of their volcano that claimed the lives of all its citizens and the discovery of their remains a ridiculous amount of centuries later. However, perhaps the strangest event of all was Pink Floyd’s concert there in 1972, right on the eve of the release of ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’. There was no audience, just a small camera crew (a decision taken deliberately in order to distinguish the film from the Woodstock film and its many copy-cats, each one with festival audiences numbering in the thousands/ millions). But somehow the ghostly, haunting music is the perfect match for the sleeping auditorium, one where Roman remnants became re-born in the twinkling of Rick Wright’s Hammond organ (sorry if I’ve gone a bit misty-eyed here, but have a listen to this concert recording of 20-minute masterpiece ‘Echoes’ and then ask yourself if there isn’t something magical happening here?!)                       

1) The Grateful Dead always struggled with prestigious gigs. Most fans would nominate both their record-attendance breaking ‘Monterey’ and ‘Woodtsock’ festival sets as among their worst recorded performances, till the late 70s at least (and let’s face it, from 1969 onwards the Dead or their fans recorded everything!) Sadly the same nerves/ typical career destruction continued with the Dead’s most infamous gig – a performance right next to the Egyptian pyramids in 1978! The concert was recorded for an intended live record but was made available for the first time just a few months back as a DVD/CD set called ‘Rocking The Cradle’. Sadly the performance of ‘Fire On the Mountain’ from this show that I know from the ‘Beyond Description’ box-set is awful – and is one of my all-time favourite Dead songs to boot so I haven’t got round to buying the full (and expensive) set just yet! Still, however bad the audio result, the sight of seven of our most spiritually-minded musicians playing in front of some of the oldest structures known to man (and, in my opinion and many other unofficial ones, the pyramids are far far older than they’re given credit for) just as the sun sets must have been a sight to behold for the handful of lucky Americans/ Europeans who travelled there to witness the event. And – to the best of my knowledge – the Dead remain the only group of any sort to have ever played in front of any of the pyramids; how the heck did the Dead of all bands manage to get clearance to do that?!

That’s all for this week, except to leave you with a message from our resident thinker Philosophy Phil – ‘The only people who don’t see the rain are the ones who have their heads in the clouds…” (we hope he’ll be feeling better soon!) Happy rocking AAA fans, we’ll see you next issue (if the Mamma Mia fan club don’t get to me first!…)


Monday, 26 January 2009

News, Views and Music Issue 19 (Intro)

January 26:

Hello again my menagerie of musical mates old and new. A couple of bits of AAA website news for you this week. Firstly, we now have a guestbook that you can sign in addition to the forum that’s been up for a while now – please drop us a line if there’s anything you want to say, anything you want to ask or if you simply want to say ‘hello’ (‘Hello’ back by the way if I don’t get round to replying!) (If anybody would like a guestbook for their own site you can get one for free by visiting **** by the way). Secondly, our site has been added to a plethora of search engines this week in addition to last month’s entry into Yahoo and Google, so we look forward to meeting many new friends soon.

Apart from interviewing Lulubelle (the cow on the front of Pink Floyd’s ‘Atom Heart Mother’ record – see last newsletter), this week has been most noticeable for our resident computer expert Mike letting me play on his ‘Rockband’ game. For anyone who doesn’t yet know it, the idea of the game is to play along to a famous track by pressing certain buttons on your guitar/drum/ keypad when a particular colour comes up on screen or singing the words into a microphone (which is a particular challenge during the gabbling required of ‘China Cat Sunflower’ and the shrieks involved in ‘Gimme Shelter’ – I came close to losing my voice this week so goodness knows how Jerry Gracia and Mick Jagger managed three hour plus sets of this stuff). We both loved the game’s rival ‘Guitar Hero’ last year so this new ‘Rockband’ game that came out at Christmas is right up our street, especially given how much choice for extra songs there is (you have to pay extra to download them, mind).

AAA songs available for download into the game include The Grateful Dead (Casey Jones/ China Cat Sunflower/ Sugar Magnolia and Truckin’), The Monkees (a cover of ‘Last Train To Clarksville’), Oasis (Don’t Look Back In Anger, Live Forever and Wonderwall, while ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’ is included in the game when you buy it), The Rolling Stones (‘Gimme Shelter’ is included in the game when you buy it) and The Who (Amazing Journey - shorn of it’s ‘Sparks’ section though sadly! - Baba O’Riley, My Generation, Sea and Sand, Who Are You and Young Man Blues). (Word of warning on the last batch of songs – if you’re on the drums then try them on the slow speed because there’s no way you can keep up with Keith Moon without falling over after five minutes!) Incidentally, a special Beatles spin-off version of the game is due in the Summer too, so get saving now! If anybody out there has the game too then let us know how you’re getting on and we’ll stick our high scores up on a future newsletter and compare notes!        

Beatles news: Two bits of news for you all. First of all, look out tomorrow for an hour documentary about the Beatles’ ‘rooftop’ performance which took place 40 years ago this week (it was January 30th for those you who want to celebrate by climbing up onto your roof and listening to ‘Let It Be’ up there. Take your laptop with you so you can email me to phone the fire brigade to get you down sometime on January 31st!) The last ever performance given by the Beatles – and their first live concert of any kind in two and a half years – it remains one of the band’s most memorable images (although did you know that before they hit on this brainwave the band the band wanted to perform the concert while travelling on a boat sailing down the Congo?! That would have been even better!) If you want to know more about how the Beatles provided the best lunchtime entertainment available in London in 1969, listen to Radio Two from 10.30-11.30pm on Tuesday 27th January and curse the fact that Wings/ McCartney and co have never repeated the idea!

A mention too of the recent story ‘broken’ by the Daily Mirror that Paul McCartney has announced that he will be getting married soon in the foreseeable future – but unlike his relationship with Heather Mills he has asked for his children’s blessing first. If the story is true (and like much of the Daily Mirror’s output, there’s no reason to think it is) expect lots of Macca love songs on his next solo album.  

CSNY news: ‘We’re now going to bring in the elephant, the oil and the butter!’ Two bits of Crosby-Nash info for you this week. As part of their ‘American legends’ series BBC4 will be re-showing the half-hour ‘Crosby-Nash In Concert’ gig first broadcast on BBC 2 in November 1970 this Tuesday, January 27th at 1.40am. For those who haven’t seen it on any of its recent BBC4 repeats yet this year, it’s well worth seeking out. Originally planned as a solo Crosby concert recorded in the wake of the 1970 CSNY split, the BBC were delighted to find out that Crosby had decided to keep recording material and gigging with his old partner (who, interestingly, kicks off the concert with a solo song, despite this date being planned as a Crosby gig!) This is pretty much the first time the duo performed a concert with just the two of them and the pair mix some old friends with future classics from their forthcoming  solo albums ‘If Only I Could Remember My Name’ and ‘Songs For Beginners’ (classics both - see reviews 45 and 46 for more!) and is, in my humble opinion, vastly superior to the only Crosby-Nash gig officially available (‘Another Stoney Evening’ from a few months later – although that one’s still pretty good!) The full set-list: Simple Man (heard in concert but not then released on record!)/ Marrakesh Express/ Guinnevere/Song For No Words (when it was unheard and brand new!)/ Teach Your Children/ The Lee Shore and closes with a startling haunting version of Traction In The Rain (when it too was unheard and brand new!) However, even better than the songs is the stage banter – puns, songwriting discussions, stoned ramblings, good natured jibes, it’s all here (no wonder the pair described their joint concerts as ‘the loosest concerts on earth!’)

Zoom forward by 38 years and Crosby-Nash’s American concerts from the end of 2008 are now available from their official website on i-pod bracelets! Interesting idea this – every concert from their last show was recorded for release this way, enabling the fans who were there to re-live their memories and those who weren’t to pick and choose their most interesting set-lists without the pair having to liaise with a ‘proper’ record company or distributor (as CSN still don’t have a regular record contract since leaving Atlantic in the mid-1990s). Unfortunately the price of each bracelet is blooming expensive ($50 each – I’m not sure what that is in pounds but it’s certainly not loose change, even at current currency rates!) and you’d have to be blooming rich to collect them all. Having seen an on-form Crosby-Nash at Manchester a couple of years ago, though, the price is probably still worth it!

Human League news: Well, technically this is ‘Heaven 17’ news, as the League spin-off band have just released their latest album ‘Naked As Advertised’, their first studio release for some time. The band – whose member Martyn Ware is now the only the former League man still with the trio – have re-recorded two AAA League favourites, ‘Empire State Human’ (from first league album ‘Reproduction’) and the single ‘Being Boiled’ (see review no 89 for why this song is a classic!)

  10cc news: The band are now back on tour with a long list of UK gigs during March and April this year - ** look up whose in the group!!** The shows follow a decade or so of silence from the band name, although Kevin Godley and Graham Gouldmann did team up for some gigs a couple of years ago.

Anniversaries this week: Yes, they’re gonna have a party, party – happy birthdays this week go to Nick Mason (drummer with Pink Floyd 1966-94) who turns 64 on January 27th, Marty Balin (singer with Jefferson Airplane/Starship 1965-69 and 1972-78) who turns 67 on January 30th and Steve Marriott (Small Faces 1965-69) who would have been 62 on the same day. Events this week include: John Lennon recording ‘Instant Karma’ after writing it the night before (January 26th 1970), The Who being booted off an American flight for, quote, ‘making an air hostess cry’ (January 28th 1968), Henry McCullough officially joining the second line-up of Wings (January 29th 1972) and Beatles music publisher Dick James dying this week in 1986 (February 1st).      


Abba "The Visitors" (1981) (News, Views and Music 19)

“Here’s to us, one more toast and then we’ll pay the bill, deep inside the both of us can feel the autumn chill…We’re still striving for the sky, no taste at all for humble pie, thanks for all your generous love and thanks for all the fun”

“The Visitors” (Abba, 1981)

Not for the first time in my life, it seems the whole world has gone mad over something I can’t bear and can’t even begin to see how anybody in their right mind would enjoy. But unlike other fads such as the Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles (‘The Care Bears have turned green and grown shells!’), unlike Take That (why were this drippy band popular the first time round, never mind the second?!?), unlike Lord Of the Rings (for the first time ever Mike and I disagree over something, but in my opinion these yawn-inducing films are only interesting if you like New Zealand travelogues with bad computer models imposed on top – and something has gone badly wrong when your most interesting, believable and best acted character is a CGI model, take a bow Gollem!) and – God help us – The Spice Girls, I thought I actually stood a chance at liking the ‘Mamma Mia’ film. I was wrong.

I seem to be on my own here, but the best Abba tracks are the ones that hardly anybody knows, the ones where the Swedish foursome sound like genuine pioneers and craftsmen, not just the human incarnations of Ikea and the Swedish Chef off the Muppets (cute but ultimately rather bumbling amateurs with a cursory understanding of the English language and a tendency to throw things and/or come off at the hinges). Music’s other fab four’s later albums, especially, are chock-full of classy lyrics and simple tunes delivered via breath-taking complex arrangements which are just dying out to be re-vitalised and re-discovered by an audience that seemed to miss them the first time round. Instead all we get here is the mind-numbingly irritating ‘Dancing Queen’ trotted out for the zillionth time and the candidate-for-the-most-teeth-grindingly-annoying-song-of-all-time-not-featuring-the-Spice-Girls ‘Thank-you For The Music’ (even Take That don’t sound this arch and self-aware, although admittedly this song is the least successful part of a mini-musical and isn’t really about Abba at all; thank God the other two parts – on ‘Abba The Album’ – are infinitely better). Neither of these songs make any sense in the context of the film – the film makers don’t even have the good sense to save the former for the obligatory disco scene! – whereas even a song like Waterloo is relegated to the closing credits, even though it makes infinitely more sense (‘Finding my fate is to be with you’).

The musical and now film version of ‘Mamma Mia’ could and should have addressed at least some of these quality issues – let’s face it, the plot was stapled together with such flimsy attempts at including all the songs that everyone knows and loves that far more relevant but less well known songs like ‘My Love, My Life’ (‘Though I know I don’t possess you, run away God bless you – you are still my lover and my life’) and ‘Like An Angel Passing Through My Room’ (‘Half awake and half in dreams, seeing long forgotten dreams…’; a song which would have been perfect for Piers Brosnan being not quite sure if it was really Meryl Streep in his bedroom which was – incidentally – the only scene without a song stapled to the soundtrack) were pointlessly passed over despite the film being quite short (although it seemed like hours when I sat through it). Worst of all, the film took Abba’s songs and made simple karaoke re-makes out of them, ones that wouldn’t tax the poor actors’ vocal chords too much. The whole reason Abba songs have lasted so long is that their slices of innocent fluff are backed up by some towering performances from both the band’s girl singers (who have a range not heard since Grace Slick and Lulu) and one of the punchiest and hardest-working rhythm sections of them all, giving a driving relentless rhythm perfect for the underlying obsession and emotion underlying most of their songs. By contrast, the film soundtrack sounds like a couple of drunks trying to remember songs that they never understood in the first place backed by session musos all too sure that these songs need to be performed as simply as possible (trust me, however easy they sound, most of Abba’s best known songs are ridiculously complicated, as you’ll know if you’ve ever tried to sing along with the records).

Abba certainly weren’t the most consistent band in the world (they did after all write ‘Bang Bang A Boomerang’, a track that makes ‘Boom Bang A Bang’ look subtle) but their later work especially has a power and subtlety that would make a great film soundtrack one day – and ‘The Visitors’, their last album ironically, is the album that shows the most promise. The best moment of the film by far is ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ – a poignant, neglected track about Bjorn and Agnetha’s regret at spending so much time on their band that they missed the chance to study their offspring growing up. In this period of Abba history, Bjorn and Agnetha had broken up and Benny and Anni-Frid were about too and the fact that lyricist Bjorn was frequently giving his most naked, emotional outpourings to his ex-partner to sing only makes it more moving. Agnetha’s vocal on this song is delicious (she never puts a vocal foot wrong on Abba’s more emotional songs), full of regret and confused emotions running through her head just out of her reach. The synthesised arrangement comes close to being sentimental, but this is sentiment in a good way – like Bjorn’s previous career-best lyrics like ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’, ‘Super Trouper’ and (especially) ‘The Winner Takes It All’ this is moving indeed and all the more poignant given the fact that it’s the last-but-one track on Abba’s album discography.

There are three other 100% classic Abba tracks on this album, each of them even more forgotten and neglected than the last. ‘Soldiers’ is perhaps the one that raised the most eyebrows in 1981 because - despite the presence of a classic pop chorus – it’s as far away from Abba’s formerly cosy image as you can get. This is nothing less than an anti-war protest march and its one of the best to boot. In the olden days Abba would have been up in a tree throwing things at people and demanding they think about the sacrifices made by ‘Licingstone and all those men’ – but here the message is so subtle you almost miss it. The media and recognised image of soldiers is of them being strong – ‘you’d think that nothing in the world was wrong’ – but the ‘storm’ that approaches is all the worse for the lives it will take and the bravery that meets it. Bjorn’s lyric is also brave enough to challenge the idea of ‘out of sight, out of mind’, claiming that when the soldiers fall ‘we too must dance’. This gorgeous song is just as subtle in Benny’s hands, with a relentless marching backing track accompanied by Agnetha singing a counter-rhythm against the beat, well out of step with the rest of the performance and ‘moving forward’ sentiment. Like much of this final album, the song features a cold, clinical performance well out of step with most of Abba’s emotional recordings – but somehow Agnetha’s little-girl-lost-in-the-mix pleas matched against a thundering, computerised backing only makes her fright and fear all the more believable. A definite last-minute triumph for Abba, this would be heralded as a masterpiece in the hands of anybody else.

Even braver is the opening and title track, whose subtitle (‘Cracking Up’) says it all. The girls sound even more alien and isolated in this synthesised arrangement, with their uncharacteristically unemotional vocals all the more chilling given the lyrics they’re singing (‘They must know by now I’m in here trembling! In a terror, ever growing! Cracking Up! My whole world is falling! Going Crazy! There is no escape now I’m cracking up!’) There are two theories behind this song doing the rounds and each of them sound equally plausible. One idea is that the band are talking about the cold war here, with their heroine part of a resistance movement that’s slowly losing the war and the imminent knock on the door and the prospect of meeting frightening visitors driving her half out of her mind (‘These walls…have seen the hope of freedom grow in shining faces’). The second is alien invasion, a prospect not as laughable as it sounds thanks to the alien-sounding musical landscape, treated vocals and the desperate cries common to so many sci-fi films (My earthly things are of no use to me any more! Help me!) Whatever the reasoning behind it, this song is breath-taking, knocking away all of the cosy warmth we usually associate with Abba during their last 40 minutes as a team, a fact all the more moving given that the narrator of the song knows that in just a few minutes’ time everything she knows and loves will be destroyed forever. The surge of emotion that strains at the leash for a full two minutes before finally breaking into a classic if edgy power pop chorus is, however, the logical culmination of many years of Abba template songs which had been doing their best to mix and match choruses and verses for many years. He surging synthesiser riff is another classic touch – in the days of old (best heard on ‘I Had A Dream’) this lovely surging melody-line would have represented the hope for better times expressed in many of the band’s songs – here the band’s most delightful tune yet is trampled underfoot twice by the relentless rhythms of the backing track, with all hoper fading as the narrator switches from her happy nostalgia to her terror that she has just heard alien (in all senses of the word) noises on her doorstep. No wonder Abba broke-up as, after this stunning track, what was there left for them to do?

However, the band’s final statement (barring two non-album singles at least) is almost as stunning. just as penultimate track ‘Slipping…’ summed up Agnetha so well (her concern for family life and hint of sadness), the last word is left to Anna-Frid with a track summing up her power and theatricality – and, in this period of the band’s life – isolation. ‘Like An Angel Passing Through My Room’ is a ghostly track on a haunting album. Just as The Visitors’ album cover shows the band in shadow, all looking in different directions, so this track talks of the narrator’s fractured state, ‘half awake and half in dreams’, looking back on a whirlwind past that sees images go by ‘all too soon’, to the accompaniment of a ticking clock counting down the seconds till Abba’s career is effectively over. This track, which features only Benny and Anna-Frid, is a majestic end to their career, where ‘love was one prolonged goodbye’ and ‘long awaited darkness falls’.

Elsewhere we get four tracks that are far more Abba-like. ‘Head Over Heels’ is a fine nod of the head to the band’s mini-musical making, powerhouse pop song past with Anna-Frid doing her utmost to keep up with her colleagues’ busy backing track and restless, swirly words. Many of Abba’s best known tracks focus on obsession (‘Money! Money! Money!’, ‘On and On and On’, ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight)’ – hopefully you get the picture from the song titles alone) and ‘Head Over Heels’ is one of the best. The narrator is so taken with the glimmerings of a relationship that she can’t help herself rushing forward into the new opening in her life, a fact mirrored by the song’s remarkably long list of twist and turns and overlapping vocals. It’s as if lyricist Bjorn (and composer Benny for that matter) can’t wait to get shot of Abba and only to the new things in their life.

‘When All Is Said And Done’ is the closest the album came to a ‘well loved track’. Musically this is Abba as we’ve always known them, with an effortless gliding melody designed to get stuck in your head and stay there, albeit in a nice way. Lyrically, though, this is Abba’s ‘middle-aged’ song – the couple here are no longer the girl-on-a-playground narrator of ‘Suzy Hang-Around’, the scene-stealing teen-stealing narrator of ‘Does Your Mother Know That You’re Out’ or the puppy-eyed love-bitten romantic of ‘Mamma Mia’. Like many of the tracks on this album, this song is ‘one long goodbye’, firstly of Bjorn waving goodbye to Agnetha and reflecting that neither side is to blame for their split and secondly this is Bjorn waving goodbye to us, ‘standing calmly at the crossroads’, reflecting on the ‘strange treks’ we have taken together as group and fans (see the lyric quoted above for more of Bjorn’s moving eulogy for Abba).

‘One Of us’ is slightly less successful, although this song did manage to get to #3 in the charts (and appears in the Mamma Mia film) so somebody must have liked it. It’s strummed ukuleles and emphasis on warmth and emotion are obviously meant to remind us of past successes like ‘Fernando’ and ‘Chiquittita’, but the lyrics are again complex and written by a rather older, maturer head. Unlike every other song on this album (but like many of Abba’s earlier tracks) it’s demand for repetition is its main fault, not its greatest strength. This very template-like lost love song gives us exactly what we think it will, with every chorus and verse (there isn’t even a middle eight!) all counted for. This song isn’t bad by any means and is in its own sweet way another forgotten minor gem of Abba’s late-period ripe for re-discovery, but on this album its frivolous and awkward, an uneasy compromise between the pop trappings of old and the exciting adventurism of the new.

‘Two For The Price Of One’ is a last, final return to the silly side of Abba (indeed, it’s the only side of Abba there was for their first couple of albums or so) and it’s a shame as its probably the funniest of all their comedy material. Vocally, this is Bjorn’s turn to say goodbye and for once there’s nothing very revealing here. ‘Occupation’ rhymes with ‘Railway Station’, the lonely narrator seeks solace in classified ads and (look away now if you don’t want to hear the song’s twist) the special offer of ‘two for the price of one’ means he gets to date the girl of his dreams and her mother! Add in a terrifically catchy chorus, some truly baffling words and rhyming schemes, great counter-vocals from the girls and Bjorn’s weak but likeable lead and you have the perfect summation of what perhaps the Mamma Mia film should have been – innocuous fluff, but innocuous fluff done with a lot of heart and a lot of love, care and attention. We even get a marching Mariachi band for the fade-out, for no other reason than to underline the narrator’s shock at what his love life has got him into this time round.

All that remains to discuss is one half-failed experiment, the theatrical ‘I Let The Music Speaks’ which sounds from the title as if it should be another of Bjorn’s big farewell messages to his fans. It isn’t, it’s merely a chance to let Anna-Frid show off the theatrical side of her personality but can’t match the twist and turns of the thrilling ‘I’m A Marionette’ or the majestic ‘My Love, My Life’. Still, there are sweet bits to the song - which more than any other Abba track sounds like a fore-runner of Bjorn and Benny’s work on their musical ‘Chess’ – and the lyrics do at least offer a fair representation of Anna-Frid’s personality and her ability to act any emotion convincingly (unlike Agnetha who, as discussed, sounds far better when singing songs that are ‘real’). Like the rest of this fascinating album, it’s half-Abba as they always sounded and half-Abba as we always secretly wanted them to sound (or I always wanted them to sound, at least). Dismissed at the time for being cold and clinical, dismissed today for not having enough pop hits on it, I think that the concepts, arrangements and performances on ‘The Visitors’ make it the one record by Abba that will sound even greater in a few centuries’ time than it does now. Overall verdict: ♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫ (8/10).