Updated: May 20
Difficult to dance to and way ahead of its time, Abba's final album is a treat.
Featuring nine tracks on original release and running to no longer than 56 minutes, The Visitors is Abba's relatively sober follow-up to the international chart-stomper that was Super Trouper.
Oh, and it marked the end of the recording career of one of the most successful pop acts on the planet. Ever.
The cover of the album is a curiously funereal affair, all long shadows and wintry gloom, showing the four (by now divorced and galloping towards middle age) band members, facing away from one another within the kind of stately drawing room that has all the warmth of a museum. Apparently exhausted pop megastars no longer with anything of interest to say to each other, but still with that annoying final album to crank out, Abba, here seem to be prisoners within their own fully realised fantasy of pop aristocracy.
But appearances can be deceptive.
Despite the dead hand of what they were hanging on their collective shoulders, they leave behind their studio career with The Visitors on something of a creative high; even if the album is heavily synthesised, with every track wrapped in something of a clinically produced gloom. Listening to The Visitors today is like stepping into a fantasy of an early 80s wine bar, filled with dreams and nightmares. Every song here mercilessly continues with the same themes of loss, regret, guilt and mournful humanity that threads through The Visitors opening track, and which closes the long player with the hypnotic Like An Angel Passing Through My Room.
The Visitors ("I head the door-bell ring and suddenly the panic takes me, the sound so ominously tearing through the silence"), When All Is Said And Done ("Thanks for all your generous love and thanks for all the fun, neither you nor I’m to blame when all is said and done"), Soldiers ("What’s that sound, what’s that dreadful rumble, won’t somebody tell me what I hear in the distance"), Two For The Price Of One ("He had a wife, he read the matrimonial advertising pages, the cries for help from different people, different ages, but they had nothing to say"), and Slipping Through My Fingers ("What happened to the wonderful adventures, the places I had planned for us to go, well some of that we did, but most we didn’t and why I just don’t know").
It’s hardly Dancing Queen, is it?
For all that, The Visitors remains a fitting, if surprisingly adult, final album from the hit machine that was Abba. They may have been much loved by your younger sister (and oh, how she would cry for them, wishing she were the girl with the golden hair - whoever she actually was), and you used to laugh at them with your mates, but now you also feel the temptation to hold them to your heart as that thing called youth burns slowly away.
So, go on, be miserable and wonder what happened to your life.
It’s what Abba would have wanted.