Overall Album Score: 9.0 out of 10
You know what? This is my absolute favorite ABBA album. I get funny feelings whenever I get strange opinions like this, but I can't shake off the feeling. The Visitors is a freaking masterpiece, and I get that impression more distinctly every time I listen to this (which is pretty often, actually --- once or twice a month).
Even though this is ABBA's swan song, it marked a major shift in the direction for the band. As you know, ABBA had a pretty illustrious Euro-pop past with such glorious, shiny hits as "Dancing Queen," "Mamma Mia" and about eight billion others. But The Visitors is different. Instead of being happy and upbeat, they're being considerably darker and more contemplative. Benny, Bjorn and their producers were becoming intensely interested in synthesizers and making "mini orchestras" out of them.
Well, I for one, love this direction they took. They would take these skills to work on the Broadway musical about chess, love and the Cold War to end all Broadway musicals about chess, love and the Cold War. Yes, I'm talking about Chess! Seriously, if you're an ABBA fan and you haven't picked up that soundtrack, you should. By almost all accounts, it's a continuation of ABBA except, unfortunately, Agthena and Anna-Frid cannot be heard on it.
Anyway, none of these reason is why The Visitors is the best ABBA album. It's the melodies, of course! Never has there been a more solid set of tunes. True, they don't have anything quite as fantastic as "Dancing Queen," but apart from one exception they also don't have any purely mediocre songs on here. This exception is "Two For the Price of One," which almost ruins this whole experience. But it's easy enough to press the "skip" button on that one!
"One of Us" was the major hit from the album and the most instantly memorable track from the album. It has a typical ABBA chorus, and the orchestration is as well-produced as its ever been for them. Even though I admit that's probably the highlight of the album, there are other songs that come close to the distinction. "Head Over Heels" is a surprisingly jazzy number that manages to not betray the synth-heavy mood of the album, and it features one of my favorite vocal performances on an ABBA record. "I Let the Music Speak" and "Slipping Through My Fingers" are both hopelessly beautiful ballads both with fantastic orchestration. The bonus tracks contain "Under Attack," ABBA's last great single, and "The Day Before You Came," and absolutely beautiful synth-pop epic that everybody should hear at least once in their lives. I can't stress it enough: Every song on here is excellent except for one.
I can understand why many fans won't like this album, because they'll feel betrayed that ABBA changed to a much dark incarnation from their former happy, pop-ster selves. Personally, I think it's best when artists choose to evolve and change their faces every once in awhile. Granted, ABBA didn't have much reason to change their face because this was their last album! At any rate, The Visitors ends up proving that this Swedish quartet band had a lot more depth and beauty than they originally let on. This is a haunting and priceless album.
Overall Album Score: 9.0 out of 10 (I don't care what anyone else thinks about this! This is a haunting and beautiful swan song!)
Average Song Score: 9.0 (The melodies! The melodies! ... "Two For the Price of One" is such a party crasher, though.)
Album Tilt: 9.0 (Even with the inclusion of "Two For the Price of One," this is easily one of the group's most consistent albums.)
Artist Rating: 9.0 (They deserve credit for their flawless work in the studio orchestrating these songs... They didn't just do all of that overnight. Also, the lyrical matter is much more soul-searching than they ever tried before. You might be surprised.)
The Visitors 9.5/10
This is a shockingly epic, synth-heavy beginning for an ABBA album. And it rules! The song begins with a lot of quiet echoey synths as one of the girls sings with an almost Indian-tinge. The point of this beginning is not so much the melody (which is pretty good for such a song), but the atmosphere. This was produced excellently. It's thick and alarming. But then there's a huge explosion, and the song takes off in such a catchy chorus --- it's so different from the rest of the song that it almost sounds robotic. Yet, it's a welcome change. The song is so well-produced and well-written that I can't find any flaws worth noting. Not that I would want to! Perhaps my only complaint about it (not necessarily a flaw) is you can plainly hear that the voice was altered with a machine. These girls could have sung this on their own feet!!! The machines are for crappy singers like Madonna and Britney Spears.
Head Over Heels 10/10
Now it's to the more straight-ahead pop music. But wait a moment--- this is done in a strikingly jazz vein! The melody is so wonderful and varied that I can't help but think this is one of ABBA's greatest tunes. The synth-pop instrumentation seems to suit the song quite well. You'd think they would have been able to do this just as well with their '70s style instrumentation, but their producer makes it all work very well. I love this song!!
When All is Said and Done 8.5/10
Here's where I'm willing to concede that ABBA has taken a step back on their melodies --- but I don't think ABBA ever released an album that didn't have a melodically bland song in it. And, really, this one's not so bad anyway. The most rewarding aspect of this song comes in the development. It starts out as an almost classical song, and then it gracefully turns into an upbeat pop rocker.
This is another song that works best because of its surprisingly dark and grimey atmosphere. It's thick, orchestral and very well produced. The vocal melody is passable for such a song ... It's OK at first but a little too repetitive. The chorus is the most melodic bit, and it's pretty striking the first time it comes up.
I Let the Music Speak 10/10
What an absolutely beautiful song! Again, the atmosphere is thick, synth-heavy and lush. You'd think this was the reason they even invented the synthesizer! Speaking as someone who is a huge fan of Benny & Bjorn's Broadway musical Chess, this song is particularly interesting to me. It has the exact same sound and mood of that musical! Most importantly, the melody is absolutely perfect, and the vocal performance is as touching as ever. Perfection.
One of Us 10/10
Here is the most significant pop song from the whole album (unless you're going to count "Under Attack" in the bonus tracks), and it's even more beautiful than the previous track. More actually, this song seems a bit more like a regular ABBA single. It's fairly upbeat although the lyrical matter is pretty sad. (I love these lyrics, though --- who's to say they can't write good lyrics?) Again, the melody is absolutely spotless. The hooks are strong enough to catch a whale!!
Two for the Price of One 6.5/10
This song is really horrible. Despite the fact that the rest of this album tends to appreciate the more I listen to, this one just gets worse. The guys take the lead vocals, and it's only worse 'cos of that. Not only that, but the melody is just bland. It's hard for me not to pay attention to these lyrics, which is even worse than some of the tripe from their early career... It's about a guy answering a personal ad. I've just been skipping this song whenever it comes up. I will say that I kind of like the way the lyrics are read. The girls make a small cameo and have a pretty fun interaction with the guys' vocals.
Slipping Through My Fingers 9.5/10
This is yet another enormously beautiful song! Naturally, the reason for that is because of the melody. It flows beautifully, and the hooks are as strong as ever. The synthesizer orchestration isn't nearly as pompous as it is on other tracks here, but that's only a good thing. I suppose this is one of the more reserved songs!
Like an Angel Passing Through My Room 8.5/10
This also points to Chess --- it bears a strong resemblance to "Pity the Child." This is a very pretty and subtle nursery rhyme song. We hear a twinkling music box instrumenataion while one of the girls sings a rather sad song. The orchestration is restrained, classical-oriented and absolutely gorgeous. I admit, the sadness of this track is a difficult vibe for this group to exit on, but it works enough for me. Besides, if you have the version with the bonus tracks, you might as well reverse that opinion!
"Should I Laugh or Cry" is a fairy inconsequential song although it's a lot happier than most of the songs from The Visitors. Apparently these guys were actually planning another ABBA album, and these songs were to appear on it. It looks like they were going to get slightly happier... Well... I guess we'll never know.
"The Day Before You Came" is an amazing song! This, along with "Under Attack," are the MAIN reasons you should buy the version of this album with bonus tracks. Definitely do not pass this up. It's very synth-pop oriented except the orchestration is utterly beautiful. (I mean, I wish Depeche Mode sounded more like this.) These guys really knew how to use the studio when they put their minds to it --- this work is absolutely brilliant. More about the song, it's six-minute-long synth-pop symphony and it's utterly captivating from beginning to finish. WONDERFUL.
"Cassandra" is pretty good. They had a song like this in the bonus tracks of their previous album called "Put on Your White Sombrero" except this is much more orchestral. The melody is alright, but below-average for this group.
Oh, why does it have to end? "Under Attack" is ABBA's final great single. For obvious reasons, I like to think of this song as the end of The Visitors. The melody is just classic ABBA, and it lets you go out on the rabble-rousing, carefree vibe that they were always famous for. (The lyrical matter is a little less happy, but who really listens to ABBA lyrics, anyway?) Anyway, farewell, guys. ... Oh, and we still have Chess... I can't get enough of that album, either.
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