(If you’re reading this on a phone or tablet there is a chance that the embedded video may be unavailable to you. If that’s the case, I’ve left another version at Vimeo; that one should work.)
You say ABBA, you think ‘Dancing Queen’. You think Eurovision and ‘Waterloo’. You think Meryl Streep crying on a hill. You think Pierce Brosnan belting out ‘S.O.S.’ in the manner of someone having a prostate exam off camera (not my joke). You think flashy costumes and a certain joie de vivre.
Because no one likes to remember how utterly miserable they were by the time they disbanded. ABBA were a group who bore their hearts on their sleeves, or at least that’s the way it looked to the rest of us, whether it’s the raw emotion of ‘The Winner Takes It All’, the slightly manipulative but no less heartfelt sadness of ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’, the parenting anthem to end all parenting anthems (with the possible exception of ‘The Living Years’)…even something as outwardly upbeat as ‘When All Is Said And Done’ is amicably miserable (though it does include the line ‘not too old for sex’, so every cloud). I’m not saying we ignore the miserable bits, more that we tend to give more airspace to something like ‘Fernando’ than something like ‘One Of Us’. (I’ve never much cared for that song, although that’s the point at which Agnetha permed her hair and I stopped fancying her, so maybe that had something to do with it.)
The starkness plays out in that final album. The Visitors is possibly the best thing they ever did, tapping new and uncharted musical territory – an almost industrial technopop that was years ahead of its time and which Andersson and Ulvaeus would see come to fruition of a sort when they finished Chess, even though that’s still fairly theatrical. But it’s those two non-album singles – ‘Under Attack’ and ‘The Day Before You Came’ – that make the playlists, despite an initially lukewarm reaction from an audience that wasn’t ready for anything like this and had in any case more or less lost interest. Years later the latter regularly tops fan polls. I wonder if in years to come we’ll view ‘Fear Her’ with such retrospective acclaim.
…No, I don’t think so either.
The Wikipedia entry for ‘The Day Before You Came’ is worth reading, but I’ll summarise the best bits –
– Despite the minimal backing track, what really stands out is Agnetha’s voice, which is by and large sung in her native Swedish accent, rather than the twang she would adopt for other recordings
– The song’s meaning is the subject of intense scrutiny and debate – is this a song to a boyfriend? An ex-boyfriend? A murderer? Did her mundane life change for the better when this mysterious figure arrived, or did it in fact get worse? (The video goes some way to explaining this, although if you need a video to explain a song, the song’s a failure, so I prefer to think of the video as an afterthought)
– She left at 8 am and was at work by 9:15; conversely she left at 5 pm and didn’t get home for three hours. I know the woman stopped to pick up a Chinese but even allowing for rush hour traffic there is something going on here.
– Myself, I’ve always liked the image of Agnetha alone in the studio, completing the final recording with the lights out, as a musical union that’s outlasted two marriages limps along to its final, scrappy conclusion. Roll credits.
Anyway. Why the hell hasn’t anyone done something with Doctor Who? When you consider the new series’ focus on companions and the way their lives are changed by the arrival (and eventual departure) of the Doctor, isn’t it an obvious fit? The Doctor has a habit of blustering in, acting as a catalyst for revolution and reform and then making a quiet exit so someone else can clean up the mess. Doesn’t he have a tendency to treat people the same way?
What annoyed me intensely was that all those departure / regeneration scenes I found myself mocking when I watched the episodes that contained them took on a sudden emotional resonance when I looked at them again. I mean, I was crying at the Doctor / Verity Newman scene in ‘The End of Time’. That scene is faintly ridiculous and here I am wiping my eyes clean. Then I was crying at Rose. Dammit, I’m one of the ones that smirks whenever this sort of thing shows up on the Tumblr feeds. WHY IS THIS UPSETTING ME? I’M SUPPOSED TO BE DEAD INSIDE!
That’s a roundabout way of saying that I made this last week, feeling sad and not really knowing why. Perhaps I knew, on one level or another, that this week would be the way it was. And I do feel sad this week, more than I can tell you. The world seems to have no real sense of self, just a collection of squabbling factions and misunderstandings and hatred and bile. I feel as if we’ve broken something we’re not going to be able to fix in a hurry, and rather than actually sitting down and working out how it broke and what we can do to piece it back together, we’re just kicking the fragments round the playground like angry schoolchildren.
And I don’t know the answer. I don’t. But I know that’s no way to run a planet.
Postscript: episodes used, in order of first appearance –
The Zygon Inversion
Smith and Jones
Partners in Crime
The End of Time
Parting of the Ways
Day of the Doctor
The Bells of Saint John
The Wedding of River Song
The Angels Take Manhattan
The God Complex
The Fires of Pompeii
Army of Ghosts
Last of the Time Lords
Death in Heaven
The Eleventh Hour
The Name of the Doctor
Face the Raven