Thursday, August 14, 2008

TALT: ABBA!

It is accepted, almost without question, that people who have any taste whatsoever do not like ABBA.

Perhaps I can redeem my dork status by coming forward to say that THE REST OF THE WORLD IS WRONG!

ABBA is like no other group in the world, ever - not even including groups that modeled themselves after the Swedish quartet. Their songs were fun and gentle and sassy and good, in every sense of the word. Most of them have a strong dance beat that makes you want to get up and boogie around the room. They did all sorts of fun stuff with instrumentation, such as having Benny and Bjorn SING the beat in "Take a Chance on Me." (You remember: 'take a chance, take a chance, take-a take-a chance-chance!')

But all of that took a supporting role to what was truly their strength: vocals, particularly vocal harmony. They often switch between simple melody, either solo or doubled, and then jumping to a complex, layered harmony on the chorus (like in "Knowing Me, Knowing You" and "SOS").

While the group is best known for their disco-style songs, such as "Dancing Queen" (their only US #1 on the main Billboard chart), their music spans a wide range, from folksy ("Fernando") to '50s bubblegum ("I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do" and "Honey, Honey") to rock-n-roll ("Waterloo").

ABBA split in 1982, but according to MSNBC, they still sell nearly 3 million records each year. They were reportedly offered $1 billion back in 2000 for a reunion tour, but turned the offer down.

I've loved their music for as long as I can remember. In fairness, I may be somewhat biased: I grew up listening and singing along (my dad is a big ABBA fan), and because I could switch between parts, it never got old. I can now pick out parts after hearing a melody once or twice, possibly as a result of learning about harmony from ABBA. Singing is fun, but it's more fun when you're singing WITH people, especially people who love the songs as much as you do.

So getting a chance to see Mamma Mia! in New York with my family was truly a treat. The story about a girl's search for her father as she prepares for her wedding is paper-thin - I think one reviewer described it as a shishkebab stick with as many ABBA songs skewered on as possible!

However, that didn't matter. It's actually... kind of like porn. The weak plot and the caricature passing for "character development" didn't matter in the least. Fans went to see the songs they loved in performance, not to experience a literary phenomenon. As a result, the musical has been quite successful - nine years, now, I think. It had already been running for some time when I went to see it, but it hadn't lost any of its appeal: as I looked around the audience during "Waterloo" (performed after the story actually ends) I saw few people not singing along. When we came out of the theater, my dad had this HUGE grin on his face. I think we all did.

And, of course, you know I went to see the movie version. However, I knew that my parents would be passing through, so I waited to see it until last weekend so that we could go together.

Only once have I ever felt more of a connection to the rest of the audience during a movie (not counting special presentations, like The Rocky Horror Picture Show), and that was at the re-release of Star Wars on opening night. As soon as the first notes of John Williams' theme began to play, cheers and applause erupted throughout the theater. This was a little different - there was less cheering and more singing.

As with The Producers, I felt the musical should've been translated a little less directly - there were moments that just felt like they should've been on stage and were a bit too over-the-top for screen. The entire cast did a great job, but a special wow goes to Christine Baranski - I swear, the role was made for her, even in the stage version. Plus she's always wonderful. The music seemed to be a bit of a stretch for the men - they just seemed to be pushing to get those upper notes. Amanda Seyfried was great (who knew that Lilly Kane could sing?) as Sophie. And the "Greek chorus" was, I think, one of my favorite parts. As before, I left the theater with a smile.

Sweet, sugary fun? Definitely. But I challenge you to sing along with one of ABBA's hits and try not to smile.


Images thanks to http://www.worldofkitsch.com/music/abba.html, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-566967/Meryl-Mia-How-Streeps-gushing-fan-letter-won-dream-role-new-film.html, http://www.applause-tickets.com/blog/labels/new%20york%20restaurants.html

7 comments:

cupcake said...

Amen, sister. I've got their Greatest Hits CD playing in my minivan these days. (I've been known to pop in a Partridge Family CD every now and then as well.)

ABBA puts me in a good mood. It makes me smile. What's not to love?

Melissa B. said...

Yay for Abba! Don't forget--I'm gonna run your TALT on my blog next Thursday, too! BTW, The Scribe is back online, and we're hosting the Silly Summer Sunday Sweepstakes again tomorrow. Please come by and Share the Caption Love!

John said...

How does anyone turn down $1 billion dollars?!

Clix said...

Well, it wasn't an instant billion. It was offered for a 100-concert tour, plus then it would've had to've been split at least four ways. So it works out to like $2.5 million per group member for each concert.

(which makes it sound SO much more reasonable, right? *g*)

Tense Teacher said...

Do you know that Gene Simmons credits ABBA with being one of his favorite bands of all time? He says their harmonies were pure genius!

I myself grew up listening to ABBA with my mom and knew they were geniuses all along...

Clix said...

HAHAHAHA!

I think he really liked the costumes. ;D

roller coaster teacher said...

Well, I was not an ABBA fan, though I enjoyed Muriel's Wedding immensely partly due to ABBA music, until MAMMA MIA! converted me for good.

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