The Abba 'tribute' on Five tonight was so bad it could almost have been C4. Couldn't they have done better than some no-mark who insisted upon referring to Agnetha as 'the blond one'. To every standard cliche wheeled out - they had crap clothes! The men were ugly! Elvis Costello trotting out his yawnsome anecdote about 'Oliver's Army' stealing the Rachmaninov-like piano from 'Dancing Queen' - they added their own perplexing idea that the words were incomprehensible. Abba lyrics have always struck me as models of clarity; lines like 'the judges will decide/ the likes of me abide' and 'the gods will throw the dice/ their minds as cold as ice' were Shakespearian in the epic grandeur of their fatalistic melancholy. At least the guy from Attitude had the courage to talk ingenuously and without irony about this aspect of the music; about its poignancy and pain. Andy Bell was slightly embarrassed about saying - of course rightly - that Abba songs were the equal of the Beatles'.
Thing is, Abba wrote real love songs. In most Pop, 'love' is a code for infatuation or sex or some combination of the two. With Abba, we were dealing with emotions that had simmered and accreted for years. Like Roxy Music, they were both confidently post-adolescent and thorougly modern. There was no question of their pretending to be teenagers or pursuing a teenage market, but unlike today's borocracy - Norah Jones, Amy Winehouse, you know - they didn't trade on a conservative, 'classic' notion of what 'adult' pop had to entail. Like Roxy, Abba were a band who could only have been formed by people in their late twenties/ early thirties. That's why the Pop Idol singers of a couple of years back struggled so ingloriously when asked to perform Abba songs. Not only because they were simply too young to have gone through the ringer, but also because their whole MO is based on a distinctly unerotic sexualised emoting. Abba never emoted, and if sex featured in their songs, it wasn't usually as their subject ('Gimme Gimme Gimme' apart natch), but as part of their emotional background; sex typically operated as a sign of betrayal, another weapon with which the estranged lovers could hurt one another.
Where boyband histrionics and emotional grandstanding leave us cold, the coldness of Abba's delivery was paradoxically intensely emotionally engaging. In many ways, a close parallel would be Krafwerk. It was the disjunction between the dispassionate, almost robotic vocals and the profound passion of the subject matter that made them so affecting.
btw, is it now a contractual requirement that Paul Ross appears on these shows? It must be some kind of industry in-joke surely.
Still, if you're looking for an Abba tribute,Marcello's remains unsurpassable. Nothing else is necessary, really.
Speaking of C4: will it soon be the case that the whole of that channel's output will be devoted to programmes that combine Althusserian interpellation - 'How clean is your house?' - with Foucauldian bio-politics? The task of disciplining the body has now passed from dysfunctional institutions to the leisure industry, which increasingly operates as a neurosis-inducing superego. C4's latest contribution to this phenomenon is the appalling '10 Years Younger', in which a hapless member of the public is subjected to a public humiliation - last night's victim was required to stand in a Manchester shopping centre while passers by were invited to guess her age - before being given a makeover worth seven and a half K. C4's renowned fixation upon the youth demographic has gone alongside an arch-conservatism - the spreading of work into every area of life. This woman looked older than her years because she wasn't working hard enough - wasn't sufficiently subjecting her body to the punitive regime of micro-hygiene and beautification demanded by the currently dominant bio-political configuration. Cf Simon's antedeluvian essay 'Against Health and Efficiency', more relevant now THAN EVER.
Posted by mark at April 29, 2004 11:24 PM | TrackBack