Toda la información sobre el nuevo álbum / All the info about the new album:
AQUÍ / HERE
Artículo de "The Telegraph" de hoy / Today's "The Telegraph" article: AQUÍ / Here
Why ABBA won't be getting back together
Ahead of the release of ABBA: Live at Wembley Arena, Benny Andersson tells Craig McLean why he isn't interested in an ABBA reunion
At the ABBA Museum in Stockholm, all your dreams come true. Via the wonder of digital avatars, you can become the fifth member of the band, singing alongside Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Fridt. At another interactive exhibit, you can create your own mix of one of the innumerable hits that powered the band to 360 million album and singles sales. Or you can make your own pop video to Summer Night City.
If ever a band were ripe for a ride on the reunion carousel, it’s the Swedish super-troupers, who are now being celebrated again, 40 years after their victory at the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton. Sadly, this museum is probably the closest any fan will ever get.
Recreated in the small but packed museum is the small suburban kitchen inhabited by Björn Ulvaeus and Agnetha Fältskog in the late Seventies. In the audio guide, Ulvaeus explains how the weight of the foursome’s huge global success undermined this group comprising two married couples, creating all sorts of domestic subsidence.
While his soon-to-be-ex-wife was increasingly craving more time with their children Ulvaeus, alongside songwriting partner Benny Andersson, was a slave to the recording studio. On the audio guide, we hear the result of that: Slipping Through My Fingers, a song about the lyricist’s regrets about not being around to see their son and daughter grow up.
“Of course that was difficult for me too,” Fältskog told me last year, the sadness still etched into her face. We were talking in a grand, castle-style conference venue in another part of the Swedish capital. Now a 64-year-old grandmother of three, she was promoting A, her first solo album in nine years. “You want to be with them all the time. But then, there was long periods when the boys were writing and we could take it easy and be with the children. That could be half a year sometimes. [Then] I did the opposite of ABBA – coming from hotels and this life that we had, home to dishes and cooking and being with the children. I loved to come home.”
Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad had no children together, but Ulvaeus and Fältskog worked hard to give their kids a normal life. “Yes, and we had very, very good nannies to take care of them. I think we did it well – they’re very normal persons today.”
As for her children's children, they've seen granny’s old videos, “but we don’t speak about it often. We just live a normal life. I sing with them at the piano. But they are not aware of all things that has happened.”
Does it feel like another life?
“It does really,” she replied quietly. “It does.”
A couple of hours before my ABBA Museum experience, I have my own time-travel trip. In his studio on the island of Skeppsholmen, a short boat-ride away, Andersson is introducing Live At Wembley Arena. It’s a recording of an ABBA concert from 1979, now being released on double-CD for the first time.
The still shaggy-haired, still-spry 67-year-old pops some chewing tobacco in his mouth and presses play on a laptop. Wild cheering, clapping and whistling bursts from the speakers, accompanied by the portentous sounds of an old Swedish folk song, Gammal Fäbodsplan. Then out booms the arena-sized, synth-pop storm und drank of Voulez-Vous.
After it ends, the keyboard player holds his hands up. Compared to the well-known single version (Number Three, 1979), “you can hear the tempo is slightly faster – that was the adrenalin. And I was responsible for the counting.” Pause. “But it was too fast.” Andersson gives a what-can-you-do? shrug.
He plays Knowing Me, Knowing You. “Not so bad, right?” he smiles. Then we hear Andersson introducing I’m Still Alive, written by Fältskog. From the stage Andersson calls the woman his bandmate was in the middle of divorcing “Björn’s old friend, Agnetha the little blonde girl”. The description solicits all sorts of lusty yells from that windy north London arena. Hearing this 35 years on, Andersson rolls his eyes.
In her teens, pre-ABBA, The Blonde One was a busy songwriter, reaching Number One in the Swedish charts aged 17. Fältskog had 18 solo hits before joining the band. But presented with the alchemical magic of Andersson/Ulvaeus partnership, she had happily given up writing. I’m Still Alive, then, was a rare return to composition – all the rarer for never appearing on an ABBA album.
Andersson professes to not know why that should be the case, then says: “She wasn’t too keen on that. She wrote a song or two for the first albums, and then said, ‘oh, I don’t want to do that.’ I think she wrote it for the tour actually.”
Acknowledging the notably personal lyric, Andersson notes that Fältskog “is very personal. She writes good stuff. She does. But,” he adds, “there are a lot songs missing here. Because this was ’79 and we worked for another three years. We have to go on the road again,” he says, playfully. “No, I’m just kidding.”
Standing next to Andersson is another interested party. He’s Ludwig Andersson, producer of Live At Wembley Arena. He’s also Benny’s son with the Swedish TV producer he married in 1981, the year he divorced Lyngstad. "The Brunette One" now lives in Switzerland, with her British boyfriend, Henry Smith, 5th Viscount Hambleden, an heir of the founders of WH Smith.
A handsome, fair 32-year-old, Ludwig explains in English as smooth as his father’s how he received a hard-drive containing “a million gigabytes” of material, culled from all six of ABBA’s Wembley shows in November 1979. His task: assemble an album that faithfully captured ABBA live and, in audio form at least, ABBA mania.
“It’s a very difficult thing to do. You listen to six identical evenings – ’cause they are in many says identical,” he says. “And then after a while you end up questioning your judgment – who’s to say which is better than the other? So I tried to base my judgment on just a feeling.”
Methodically, Ludwig colour-coded each performance of each song with highlighter pen on sheets of paper. “So if I liked it I gave it a pink colour. And if it was OK I gave it a green. And if it wasn’t I gave it yellow.”
Then he applied a points system, with pink meaning five points. “And then the evening with the highest score seemed like the right one to pick.”
Was he tempted to cherry-pick all the pinks from across the six sell-out nights? He shakes his head. He wanted to take one night. “My thought was that it would be nice to have one uncensored evening for everyone who wasn’t there.” Notably, he concedes, himself. “I did it for me,” smiles Ludwig, “’cause I wasn’t born at the time. So I never really got to hear this. So I just did it so I could listen to all the live stuff.”
Did Ludwig go through a teenage phase of hating his dad’s music? “No!” he declares cheerfully. Honestly?
“It’s a good question, but I don’t have anything to compare it to. For me, it was never a moment where I felt like, ‘oh my father’s doing something different to the other guys’ dads – they go to work and they come home in the evening.’ Dad went to the studio and my friends’ parents went to the office.”
All four members of ABBA are still in regular, friendly contact, although it is Andersson and Ulvaeus who take the most active role in the stewardship of the brand. They were co-producers of the 2008 film of Mamma Mia!, the hit jukebox musical that moved from the world’s stages to become a giant screen success. Ulvaeus, meanwhile, is Executive Chairman of the ABBA Museum, while Andersson and his son have taken the most active role producing this new live album.
What does Benny think of current state of the music industry? “I have no clue,” he smiles. “I feel sad for everyone who’s actually a songwriter. They don’t get paid. Because of all the downloadings [sic] around the world that exist. Spotify, [and] things like Spotify – probably a good idea. It’s better than nothing. But otherwise I don’t know how they gonna do it. Because songwriters, they don’t go out on tour. They sit home and write songs. That’s not very healthy, I think. But otherwise, I think, yes, it’s very alive isn’t it? Thousands of new acts. It’s easy to come out – you do something, you put it up on your computer and it’s spread all over the world instantly. That’s nice.”
The album is released as part of the ABBA 40th anniversary celebrations. It was preceded by a lavish photobook documenting the band’s career. But what’s next? Nothing, he insists – there are no “lost” albums or demo recordings.
“There’s nothing. There’s nothing,” Andersson repeats. “While we were working we took away stuff that we didn’t want to use. We completed the things we thought was good enough. That’s it, there’s nothing. I think it’s a good way to keep your cupboards clean.”
And yet: with nostalgia still very much what it used to be, the clamour for an ABBA reunion continues. Around eight years ago, as Mamma Mia! madness swept the world, they were offered a $1bn payday to reform. They refused point-blank. “It is so silly when old bands go back on the road," said Ulvaeus at the time. “I would rather leave our fans with the image of us as we were. The best legacy is our records and videos.”
When I met he and Andersson in London before the release of the film, the guitarist staunchly stood by that quote. “Absolutely. I feel that way. They were talking about 120 gigs or something, and television, and sponsors, and commercials and what have you," he said with a grimace. "It would have taken 10 years out of my life. Just the stress. And leaving people disappointed all the time. Eeuuurgh. It was easy to say no to it. And we all felt the same.”
Andersson chipped in. “You say, ‘what about all the fans, all the people who couldn’t come to Wembley or wherever?’ I think we’re doing them a favour by not doing [a reunion]! I thinks it’s better that everybody remembers it as it was, when we had the energy.”
Now, in his lovely, wood-built studio in Stockholm, I mention to Andersson the excitement surrounding the return to the stage of Kate Bush.
“She’s wonderful!” he interjects. Her current run of concerts in London are the first time she’s performed live since, coincidentally, 1979. Considering the rapturous responses to Bush’s return, is there not a small part of him intrigued to see ABBA up there, again, too?
“I love her,” he replies, ignoring the question, “and she’s very, very special.”
“You should tour with her!” suggests his son.
“Yes!” chuckles dad. “If she needs a piano player …”
But that’s it – he’s still firm that there will be no ABBA reunion?
“Yes, absolutely,” he says.
And all four of them are in agreement?