Monday, August 10, 2009

Frida Knows There's Something Going On After ABBA

During 1982, Swedish pop juggernaut ABBA was in its death throws. A handful of new songs were recorded mid year, but the sessions were a struggle, and the material shelved. A few months later, the four members of ABBA gathered for one last hoorah in the studio, resulting in a double album compilation titled ‘The Singles: The First Ten Years’, featuring a couple of new singles, ‘The Day Before You Came’ (UK#32/OZ#), and ‘Under Attack’ (UK#26). They made a handful of promotional appearances on television across Europe and Britain, but by year’s end the group had effectively ground to a halt. Though no official announcement was made regarding ABBA’s dissolution, it became more apparent with each passing year that the super-Swedes would not rekindle the ABBA partnership.

The ABBA engine room of Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus continued to work together as both a writing and production team. They didn’t have to wait long to be associated with two more hit singles, lifted from the 1984 concept album ‘Chess’, featuring the UK#1 ‘I Know Him So Well’ by Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson (see previous post), and the Australian chart topper ‘One Night In Bangkok’ by Murray Head (see previous post). In the ensuing 25 years, Andersson and Ulvaeus have continued to weave their pop magic, and keep the ABBA flame well and truly burning, most recently with the mega-selling musical/film ‘Mamma Mia!’. Agnetha Fältskog had actually recorded as a solo artist pre-ABBA, and in the years immediately following the group’s demise, she was quite active as a recording artist. Fältskog’s first post-ABBA single, ‘Never Again’, hit the European charts as ABBA’s ‘Singles’ double album was still riding high. Over the next five years, Agnetha Fältskog released three studio albums, working with the likes of 10CC’s Eric Stewart and Chicago’s Peter Cetera. Several hit singles kept her name in the British and European charts, including ‘The Heat Is On’ (1983), ‘The Way You Are’ (1986), and ‘I Won’t Let You Go’ (1985). In 2004, Fältskog returned after a near 20 year absence from recording, with the acclaimed album ‘My Colouring Book’ (UK#12/Swe#1/Ger#6/OZ#50).

Though ABBA have always been acknowledged as one of Sweden’s biggest and brightest exports, Anni-Frid Lyngstad, or Frida to her friends, was actually born in Norway. Like the other three members of the group, Frida had already accrued a considerable amount of professional experience in music, prior to ABBA forming in 1972. Her early albums were produced by fiancé/husband Benny Andersson, and it was the breakup of the pairs marriage that no doubt proved a contributing factor to ABBA falling apart. Following her divorce from Benny, Frida relocated to London in early ‘82. Whilst ABBA were still officially operational, they were on an extended hiatus, with Benny and Bjorn beginning to focus their creative energies on what would eventually surface as the musical/concept album ‘Chess’. Frida thought she’d take advantage of some rare freedom beyond the confines of ABBA to record her first solo album in more than a decade, and first English language album.

Genesis singer/drummer Phil Collins had also recently gone through a painful divorce (is there any other kind?), expressed with no subtle angst through his mega-selling 1981 album ‘Face Value’. Frida connected with the album’s themes, sound and ambience, and wanted Phil Collins to come on board as the producer for her proposed album. Collins had a free five minutes between solo and Genesis projects, and with producer Hugh Padgham, agreed to helm production on the album. The album benefited from an all-star line-up of song writing talent, including Stephen Bishop, Giorgio Moroder, Per Gessle (of Roxette), Rod Argent, and Bryan Ferry. The track that would shine the brightest, or rock the loudest, was ‘I Know There’s Something Going On’, penned by ex-Argent guitarist and song writer extraordinaire Russ Ballard (see future post).

The album was recorded at Stockholm’s famed Polar Studios, during February and March of ‘82. Production received the full ‘Face Value’ treatment, including the Earth, Wind & Fire horn section (fresh from a virtuoso performance on Collins’ album), and the man himself, Phil Collins wailing away on the drums. The lead out single ‘I Know There’s Something Going On’ hit the airwaves in August of ‘82, and it was clearly apparent that Frida hadn’t recording an ABBA-style melodic pop album. Collin’s trademark thumping drums announced the tracks arrival, and Frida delivered a strong vocal performance, backed by raw guitar riffs, courtesy of auxiliary-Genesis axeman Daryl Stuermer. ‘I Know There’s Something Going On’ made its mark Stateside (#13), and bolted to the summit of the charts in several European countries (France, Belgium, Switzerland). Though its performance on the British charts was a relevant disappointment (#43), Frida soon found she had something going on in Australia, with a #5 solo hit late in ‘82. The tracks source album, ‘Something’s Going On’, received positive reviews all round for its bold, hard edged, rock oriented sound - this was a member of ABBA afterall. ‘Something’s Going On’ reached the top ten across Europe (UK#18/OZ#40/US#41), and offered Frida a clear and marketable identity beyond ABBA.

Frida returned to the charts late in 1983 with the track ‘Time’, a duet with B.A. Robertson (another Genesis connection there - Robertson has worked extensively with Mike Rutherford). ‘Time’ was a cover of the instrumental track ‘Arrival’, originally featured on ABBA’s 1976 album. Produced by Mike Batt (see Art Garfunkel post), ‘Time’ was featured in the musical ‘ABBAcadabra’, and reached #45 on the British charts.

By 1984, the ABBA years were beginning to dim, well no not really, but at least Frida felt free to spread her creative wings without regard for a possible reintegration into the ABBA fold. Producer Steve Lillywhite (U2, Peter Gabriel, Simple Minds) joined Frida in a Paris studio to push the creative boundaries even further. Once more there was an impressive roster of song writing talent, including Kirsty MacColl, Pete Glenister, Simon Climie (of Climie Fisher fame - see previous post), Guy Fletcher, and Andy Leek (see previous post). Benny and Bjorn penned the track ‘Slowly’, which to date remains the most recent song written by the duo to have been recorded by either Frida of Agnetha. With the album ‘Shine’ (UK#67), producer Lillywhite augmented Frida’s vocals with a complex soundscape, resonating with a palpable sense of power throughout. Big Country front man Stuart Adamson penned the track ‘Heart Of The Country’, which featured fellow Big Country member Mark Brzezicki on drums, and former King Crimson bassist Tony Levin. Frida offered up a confident and compelling vocal performance, confirming her new found status as a solo artist. Sales for ‘Shine’ were comparatively disappointing, and the album didn’t even receive a U.S. release. Rather than push the envelope further as a solo artist, Frida retreated from the spotlight over the next decade or so, though not to the degree of Agnetha Fältskog. In 1996, Frida released the Swedish language album ‘Djupa Andetag’ (‘Deep Breaths’), which became an instant #1 on the Scandinavian charts. Over the ensuing decade she has contributed to a number of one off projects, and stage performances. To commemorate Anni-Frid Lyngstad’s 60th birthday in 2005, Universal Records released the ‘Frida Box Set’, comprising her two English language albums remastered, along with a specially produced DVD retrospective.

Though a much sought after ABBA reunion has never eventuated, in July of 2008, the four members of ABBA appeared in public together for the first time in almost a quarter of a century, at the Swedish premiere of the film ‘Mamma Mia!’.

Update: It was reported in early 2011 that Agnetha
Fältskog, the least seen of the rare Super Swede breed, has suggested that a one-off reunion show is not beyond the realms of possibility. Of course the bird may of already flown the coop with all four members now in their 60s and no doubt enjoying comfortable semi-retirements. But whilst ever the flame flickers, even a little, Napoleon's surrender at Waterloo is not absolute!

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