ABBA: The Album suggested ABBA was capable of more.
ABBA followed up the biggest record of their career with a re-introduction inABBA: The Album. While that subtitle casually sidestepped the fact the band already had one self-titled full-length to its name, it also promised the pursuit of a different path from the familiar—or at least music different from “Dancing Queen,” the number-one smash that still defines ABBA to this day. Abba: The Album ended up setting the pop group off into a new direction, and the efforts here laid the foundation for their ambitions during their final years.
This record may not stand a chance as a capital-A album against the rock epics of the 1970s, but it’s definitely the most rock-centric ABBA project. “It’s got to be rock ’n’ roll/ That fills the hole in your soul,” the band sings on the album’s B-side. “Hole in Your Soul” opens the show with a muscular guitar riff that’s as brazen as their signature choruses. More glaring, though, is the change in their music of worship. Just a year before, they dedicated an anthem to the discotheque. Now, they visit the altar of rock music to brighten their lives.
ABBA hadn’t abandoned dance music completely. The album’s most popular single, “Take a Chance on Me,” plays upon classic disco tropes in the music’s ornate sashay, the group’s fondness for dancing and its coy dialogue to tease out the titular hook. That said, ABBA simply dreams beyond the disco in ABBA: The Album. The tricks pulled from more studio-minded rock albums leave the most impact as the pop group takes on a range of ideas to widen their musical identity.
The group’s search for a different image resulted in “The Name of the Game,” the album’s other hit single. The music here is considerably mellower in comparison to the ecstatic singles of Arrival. ABBA’s focus on building a world of its own is evident in its production; there’s the dark touch of synthesizers in “I’m a Marionette” or the flute-assisted voyage of “Move On.” But one only needs to read the lyric sheet to see their efforts to expand the possibilities of a pop record. While common people starred in everyday settings in most of ABBA’s songs, “Eagle” finds the group steering away from their usual stories of romance on the dance floor. This opening track instead resembles rock ’n’ roll folklore that celebrates power and freedom, much likes the symbolism behind its namesake bird.
Out of all these experiments, “I’m a Marionette” best hints toward what ABBA would strive to create in their later works. The theatrical strings and the waltzing, monologue-like cadence make more sense in its original context as a piece for their musical, The Girl with the Golden Hair, which also included “Thank You for the Music” and “I Wonder (Departure)” from this album. But the baked-in metaphors, in this case referring to cutting off the controlling strings, would make its way in the group’s last album, The Visitors, albeit with more nuance.
For ABBA: The Album, the group had only begun to venture out of disco to see what else was possible. Unfortunately, they didn’t build upon the album until the tail end of their career. Following this record, they would detour into a return-to-form and later write their darkest record, The Visitors, inspired by the respective divorces of the band’s two married couples. Romance drama ruled their world until the very end. But while their broad strokes continued to inspire some of the finest pop moments, ABBA: The Album suggested ABBA was capable of more.