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ABBA – Gold (Greatest Hits Compilation Vinyl Review)

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ABBA – Gold (Greatest Hits Compilation Vinyl Review)

ABBA’s Gold is without a doubt one of the greatest compilations ever released. I can listen to it continuously without necessarily wanting more as there isn’t a lacklustre song to be heard on this exceptional release. However, that hasn’t stopped the Swedish juggernaut from reissuing the Gold collection countless times and adding to it with More ABBA Gold and a 40th Anniversary Edition that also includes additional B-sides not previously released on the aforementioned titles.

This review, however, will focus on the original ABBA Gold; specifically the 2014 vinyl reissue. However, as a lifelong ABBA fan, I’ll most likely review the additional releases, in the future, so check back regularly. 

When originally released in 1992, I was in awe. I swear I wore that cassette tape out as I played it that much. For me, it was new and fresh as I was only a teenager at the time and Abba Gold would ultimately cement my interest in the band following my admiration of Arrival. It was, therefore, a triumphant moment the reissue was announced and released. Although, something was not quite right. Looking up the history of the album, I was able to find out that he edition of Abba Gold that I had become smitten with was in-fact the Australian release, with three different songs that were hugely popular down under. The 2014 vinyl re-issue was in-fact the International edition of Abba Gold and I would lament the fact that I sold the cassette so many years ago when MP3s were taking the world by storm. Nevertheless, it only took a few spins on the turntable for me to connect with the International tracking of the album and since then I have been content with the varied song selection.  

The records themselves are presented in a slide-out design that I appreciate for its simplicity. A gatefold would have been nice, but I’m sure I’m not alone when I lament the challenges of getting records in and out of gatefolds at times. No, they aren’t a deal-breaker, but they do require a little more fiddling. Nevertheless, the inner sleeves are adorned with photographs and a thoroughly enjoyable essay, penned by British rock music journalist John Tobler.  

The records feature the stunning red Polydor label and are pressed and mastered well, with consistent quality. While I wouldn’t say this or any ABBA release is necessarily audiophile-grade, many of the included songs sound significantly better than they do on ABBA’s other vinyl reissues. That said, this release isn’t perfect and as much as it pains me to admit it, the Apple Music/iTunes (Apple Digital Master) edition of Abba Gold and ABBA’s broader back catalogue, sound remarkably good and arguably better than any ABBA vinyl or CD release I have in my collection. 

Nevertheless, while the records are flat, there is a little more surface noise than I would generally like. It isn’t necessarily distracting unless you find yourself listening to your record collection via headphones. Also, and this is an obvious pressing error, when Dancing Queen starts, you hear the song softly through the left channel before the stereo tracking comes in. It isn’t that the tracks are offset from each other, just that when it was pressed, the left channel was prematurely pressed. Thankfully, once the stereo track kicks in, Dancing Queen plays perfectly with no audible distortion or apparent timing issues. It is a surprising error, given the status and cultural importance of ABBA, but it hasn’t been the first, or last time, that their vinyl pressings have raised eyebrows amongst music lovers. Overall, however, ABBA’s Gold 2014 vinyl reissue sounds very good and is thoroughly enjoyable to listen to. 

Side One

Dancing Queen, as mentioned earlier, has a dual-ghosting introduction that, while initially distracting, fades into the song perfectly allowing one to turn up the volume, sing along, and dance to one of ABBA’s very best tunes. 

Knowing Me, Knowing You is sonically beautiful. I’ve always enjoyed audio panning and Knowing Me, Knowing You uses this technique perfectly. Perhaps the most enjoyable element of this song is the tempo. Have you ever noticed how it is a slow song, yet also a fast song? This dichotomy is intriguing and I feel it’s part of the reason why the song is so good as it has an organic sound that is neither perfect or erroneous, but equally both. Sensational!

Take A Chance On Me is another ABBA classic that encourages the body to move to the groove. Seriously, try and sit still when listening to this song, it is almost impossible. 

Mamma Mia is an absolute masterpiece and the karaoke song for the budding amateur singer. Yes, this middle-aged man thoroughly enjoys singing along to Mamma Mia. It is simply, that good! 

Lay All Your Love On Me has quite a bit of noise and a little inner groove distortion, despite the record being cleaned and run on a well balanced Pro-ject Debut Carbon turntable with an Ortofon OM20 needle. A shame considering just how good this song is. Nevertheless, it is a perfect song to close out Side One. 

Side Two

Super Trouper is one of my all-time favourite ABBA songs. The harmonious intertwining of the vocals is pure gold and the musicality is delivered at just the perfect tempo. Pure perfection!

I Have A Dream is a great song, but I’ve never been convinced that it follows on well from Super Trouper. It is, of course, a slower song and I think I would have preferred it to be presented at the beginning of side three. Nevertheless, it is placed where it is and once I get over my objection to its placement, I can thoroughly enjoy this ballad/folk tune that is pure ABBA.

The Winner Takes It All is a beautiful story-driven song. Agnetha‘s vocal is absolutely beautiful but my only criticism is the shrillness of the vocal and piano in the high end as it can be a little jarring if the volume is turned up too loud.

Money, Money, Money is a killer ABBA tune. 

S.O.S is simply magnificent!

Side Three

Chiquitita is beautiful, although when the song enters it’s upbeat tempo, with a substantial volume boost, it can be a little jarring on the senses. 

Fernando is superb and while I don’t have a favourite ABBA song, Fernando for me is only bested by Eagle. Both are so relaxing and sonically pleasing that I could listen to either on repeat for an eternity. 

Voulez-Vous removes me from my relaxed state and wants to get me on the dance floor, singing along, as if it’s the most natural thing to do. The chorus is exceptional as is the rhythm and the vocal harmony. It’s such a great song!

Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) is one of my favourite ABBA songs and yes, this heterosexual man sings this song loud and proud. The orchestral introduction is epic and it is arguably the pinnacle of disco-based music, although there are so many sensational examples to choose from. Regardless, Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) is one of the greatest disco-based songs of the era and has remained timeless, still feeling fresh in the modern era.

Side Four

Does Your Mother Know has one of the best intros for any ABBA song, doesn’t it? Does Your Mother Know is a killer pop/rock tune that you can sing along to, dance to, and turn the volume up to so that you’ll irritate your neighbours. Surely, ticking all those boxes is the sign of a good song, yes?

One Of Us is an earworm waiting to happen. You’ve been warned! However, I would still recommend it as One Of Us is magnificent; much like most of ABBA’s final studio album, The Visitors, is. 

The Name Of The Game is perhaps the only song on Gold that I question its worthiness for inclusion. Is it a great song? Absolutely. Do I enjoy it when it comes on? You bet. Yet, I still don’t feel it is worthy of this compilation. Instead, if I had selected the tracks to be included on this release, I would have opted for Eagle and would have ensured The Name Of The Game made it to More Abba Gold

Thank You For The Music is a little campy but every time it comes on, it reminds me of how thankful we should be for the music we know and love and even the music that doesn’t appeal to our subjective selves, for it will give joy to another music lover. And, yes, thank you ABBA for the music!

Waterloo is, as I’ve mentioned before, a fun song. I don’t know about you, but I feel it is the perfect closing song for this compilation as it simultaneously encourages me to listen to the album again as well as setting it aside and allowing Waterloo to be a repetitive earworm for the rest of the day. 

Overall, there was no need for More ABBA Gold as this core release covers ABBA’s illustrious career perfectly. I’m certain some may disagree with me, you may be one of them, but I would say that ABBA’s entire catalogue is so strong that it would have been far better for casual or new fans, coming into the ABBA universe post-ABBA Gold, to explore ABBA’s entire back catalogue. I say that because ultimately, ABBA has more gold-worthy songs than any single compilation could ever hope to deliver. 

ABBA’s Gold is worth owning for casual and hardcore fans alike. Often, when I just want to listen to ABBA, but I’m not sure what album I’d like to listen to, I’ll put on ABBA Gold and the desire to listen to one of my all-time favourite bands will be met. Compilations may get a bad wrap, but there are times when quality releases, such as this, remind me just how important an artist-based compilation is. 

ABBA’s Gold is available on Vinyl, CD, and Apple Music.

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Abba – Waterloo (Numbered 40th Anniversary 7-inch 45rpm Vinyl Picture Disc Review)

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Abba – Waterloo (Numbered 40th Anniversary 7-inch 45rpm Vinyl Picture Disc Review)

I love anniversary releases. Yes, I know I’m often being taken for a ride by record companies, but I just can’t avoid the new and shiny release from some of my favourite artists. All they have to do is slap a limited edition sticker on the cover and I’m there demanding they take my money. It is an illness, but at least I can acknowledge I have a problem. Just as they will never cease to repackage and reissue products that I already own, with new and never before seen photographs et al, I will never stop buying these anniversary editions for my record collection.

Abba acknowledged their 40th Anniversary with a plethora of releases that included Live At Wembley Arena, a reissuing of their vinyl collection and an incredible 7-inch singles vinyl box set comprising of 40 singles released during their illustrious career. Yes, as a life-long Abba fan, I purchased all the 40th Anniversary releases. I just couldn’t help myself, they are Abbatastic!

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One of the releases, also released as part of Record Store Day 2014, was Abba’s Waterloo 7-inch 45rpm Vinyl Picture Disc. I have number 4018 of 7000. As you can tell by the photographs, it is simply gorgeous with the band featured on Side A and their logo and 40th Anniversary logo featured on Side B.

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Side A features the Swedish version of Waterloo, with Side B containing the English version. I have always found these variations in language to be interesting. While I speak no other language than English, I still enjoy Abba’s music when recorded in foreign tongue. Although, because Abba’s music encourages one to sing-a-long, they become a little bit of a humorous tongue twister during karaoke nights.

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What isn’t twisted is the sonic quality of this release. Vinyl picture discs are often ridiculed for the sonic inferiority and while my Iron Maiden Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son picture vinyl is hideous, all Universal Music picture discs in my collection, including this Abba release have been superb when it comes to sound quality. Yes, you still experience the whirring sound that is associated with picture disc vinyl, but it is certainly not intrusive to the music or the listening process. I honestly only notice it on the run in and out tracks. Let’s just say, I’m not one of the individuals that believes picture disc vinyl shouldn’t be played; unless it is etched of course. Hence, I accept the shortcomings and simply enjoy the record as a musicphile, rather than an audiophile.

The mastering on this single is also one of the best I have ever heard for the song Waterloo. Abba has a unique sound and some may argue with me, but I believe that the audiophile mind has to be switched off when listening to Abba. Their music is enjoyable, but it isn’t necessarily a sonic masterpiece. After all, it was aimed and marketed for radio playback, so just as the ‘loudness wars’ is creating a distinct sound, I believe Abba represents a similar style of sound that is very much lodged in the late 70s and early 80s. That isn’t to say it is bad, just that when referring to the quality of the mastering, the difference must be acknowledged.

Waterloo itself is a fun song, as most Abba tunes are; especially in their early career. Waterloo is a love song that uses the 1815 Battle of Waterloo as a metaphor for submitting to love, just as Napoleon submitted to defeat. The single itself came from Abba’s similarly titled second album Waterloo, and resulted in the band winning the highly coveted Eurovision Song Contest in 1974.

Depending on where you are in the world, this limited edition is likely only available on the second hand market. That said, thanks to the Internet Audiophile Reference Recordings and Utopia Records still have stock. You can of course listen to Waterloo (Swedish Version) and Waterloo (English Version) on TIDAL Hi-Fi.

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Abba – Arrival

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Abba – Arrival

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.

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