Abba’s 1976 album, Arrival, was my introduction to the band and it became one of my first musical memories. Despite not being born until three years after the album’s release, I recall the cassette being played continuously as a child. As I grew up, the cassette was eventually passed down to me, and to say that it got played excessively would be an understatement.
I once heard that a pre-recorded cassette had about 250 good plays in it before degradation really set in. While I’m not sure I believe this to be true, cassette tape does have a finite lifespan due to the nature of the format. That said, I must have played the Arrival cassette at least a couple of thousand times throughout the 80s and 90s. In part, this would have been driven by my inability to obtain new music as a child. Seriously, the children of today don’t know how fortunate they are to have so much music available. It is then disappointing to see that many of them don’t believe they should pay for music. I won’t get into that argument, except to say that if you enjoy music, pay for it!
Due to the excessive plays of my Arrival cassette, the tape ended up being stretched beyond belief and Agnetha’s predominate vocals would continually flicker as if the power was about to go out. That said, I still miss the cassette, as a format, and that tape in particular. I can’t remember what happened to it, but I do know that I no longer have it in my possession. Most likely I sold it, or threw it out, after digitising the cassette in the early days of MP3. It was a stupid move, but convenience at the time seemed more important. I recall thinking that if I had the MP3 version of the album, there is no point keeping the physical counterpart. How naive was I? Nevertheless, we learn from our mistakes and I’m happy to say that I now have the vinyl edition of the album along with a copy on CD.
Interestingly, the vinyl re-issue I have is sonically on par with my memories of the cassette I grew up with. It is honestly not the best pressing. Over the years, Abba has been plagued with criticism from audiophiles regarding their sound quality. Some releases, of the same album, have been exceptional while others are questionable. Arrival has been issued so many times that there are well over 100 different documented editions of the album, all from varying sources. I don’t know about you, but I want the source that Abba themselves were happy with. Forget remastering, give me the original master and I will be happy.
Even the individual quality of songs on Abba’s albums can vary. Therefore, it is difficult as a collector to know which version is best to own. Now I acknowledge that Abba has a unique sound that is based on the techniques and chosen style of the time, but I am not questioning these artistic decisions. Without doubt, the problem is in the mastering process. One very serious collector decided to compare releases, document them, and publish the results on Abba Plaza. Abba Plaza is one of many sites and forums that have reported on Abba’s catalogue being less than audiophile grade. Simply perform a Google search for Abba and sound quality and you will see what I mean.
I remember reading once that Abba’s goal was to target radio, and ensure their music sounded fantastic via that format, hence the lack of audiophile grade recordings. Perhaps there is an element of truth to this when it comes to the mastering and distribution process, but I don’t want to believe it.
Perhaps we will find a similar occurrence when we revisit the brickwalled albums of the last decade. They will forever be sonically compromised, unless an original master was created without limitations.
That said, I can’t help but wonder if an audiophile version, of an Abba release, would have us all running for our worn out records. There is something special about the Abba sound and while I could point at many aspects to justify this thought, I wonder if it is the lower sonic quality that takes me on this nostalgic journey.
Perhaps I’m overthinking the listening process and just need to make peace with the Abba records I have. Critically examining releases does limit the enjoyment factor.
When I do want to enjoy the Arrival album, I turn to the CD remaster/reissue from 2001. When comparing directly with my vinyl reissue, it is clear that both editions have been sourced from very different master tapes. I’ve yet to pick up the Deluxe Edition with DVD, so I can’t comment on that release. Although, I can say that the Deluxe Edition was again remastered, by a different mastering engineer.
At this stage, I would recommend staying away from the vinyl re-issues, unless you're an avid collector. Sonically they are disappointing. As mentioned earlier, I can recommend the 2001 remastered CD edition that is still readily available. TIDAL Hi-Fi has this version for those interested in streaming, while Apple Music and iTunes have a 2014 Mastered for iTunes edition. The Mastered for iTunes sounds a little too muddy in the low end and lacks the instrumental separation that is present in the 2001 remaster. That said, it isn’t a bad mastering and is still significantly better than the vinyl re-issue.
As usual, I digress. Abba’s Arrival album is just fun and lacks the seriousness of their later albums. That said, there isn’t an Abba album that I don’t like, nor is there a song of theirs that I skip over.
Yes, some of the songs have been played to death on the radio, in commercials, and in films, thereby causing fatigue, but with hits such as When I Kissed The Teacher, Dancing Queen, Knowing Me, Knowing You, Money, Money, Money, and Fernando (single only - bonus track), you simply can’t avoid Abba’s Arrival. It is their greatest hits album, without intending to be so.
As a body of work, Arrival, showcases a band that was arguably at the pinnacle of their success. I do class their later four albums to be superior in terms of production quality and musicality, but Arrival heralded Abba’s arrival.