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See that girl, watch that scene, diggin’ the dancing queen, wooow-ooo-oo. Yes, my fellow gnarled pop pickers. Four decades after she sang about Friday nights and the lights being low, an incredible 40 years after she climbed aboard her white platform boots and squeezed into her blue satin knickerbockers, Agnetha Faltskog is back.
Remember Agnetha? She was the blonde one in Abba, the Swedish-born fount of a million male fantasies, the dolly bird who made pale blue eyeshadow a thing long before Adam Ant even thought about it.
Throughout the ’70s, Agnetha was the singer we all wanted to be, the platinum-haired pop star with the plaintive edge to her voice, the arch-deployer of curling tongs and unabashed wearer of spray-on satin catsuits.
Throughout that long, long decade that taste forgot, Agnetha never committed the sin of simplicity. White lace-up dresses, peek-a-boo all-in-ones, Grecian tunics, Spandex flamenco trousers, capes, chokers and beany hats? She wore the lot. Sometimes, it seemed, all at once. Glittery headbands and jammy layers of lip gloss? Them, too. We all thought she was the last word in smoky, Swedish glam.
And now the woman who once sang “I’m nothing special, in fact I’m a bit of a bore” has cast off decades of self-imposed seclusion and stepped back into the global spotlight once more. So here she goes again, my, my, how can we resist her?
Well, can we?
Remarkably, the 62-year-old, long thought of as the Greta Garbo of pop, has been tempted out of retirement on her estate on the Swedish island of Ekero. She made the decision after hearing a new set of songs written for her by Jorgen Elofsson, the Grammy-nominated producer who has previously worked with stars such as Britney Spears, Celine Dion and Westlife. She has a new single out this week, When You Really Loved Someone.
A new album, her first for nine years, will be released in May. Simply called A, it includes a duet with Gary Barlow.
Can you see where this is going? Some would say straight down the middle of the road on the electro-pop highway to hell.
The duet with Barlow is called I Should’ve Followed You Home, which sounds a bit creepy. Especially for a woman who famously had a stalker, a former boyfriend against whom she had to take out a restraining order.
Of course, Agnetha is not the only ’70s star making a comeback. David Bowie has just released an album and a single. Fleetwood Mac are back on the road.
Donny and Marie Osmond have just finished a UK concert tour, a musical event that prompted one reviewer to report that their show “was so spectacularly dreadful on so many fronts that it set a new benchmark in light entertainment atrocities”.
A reminder, if any was needed, that a tiptoe down the path of return is fraught with peril. Sometimes we like our pop gods fossilised in the past, a lovely fly caught in the amber of our memories. Often we don’t want them to come back at all, ruining everything by reminding us all of how old we’ve become.
Fans will always compare the older celebrity with their younger selves – and few come off better in the evaluation. It is even worse for Agnetha, who wasn’t just a star, but a member of one of the most successful bands in pop history.
Along with fellow members Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Abba unfurled a seemingly endless parade of pop songs that became hits all around the world.
Famously, they were two married couples when they first topped the charts. After having two children, Agnetha and Bjorn split up in 1979, followed by Benny and Anni-Frid three years later. Yet the break-ups led only to more hits, with the poppier songs of the early years being replaced by more introspective numbers. Six years ago, Universal Records estimated they had sold more than 370 million albums. New audiences and Mamma Mia! the musical, launched in 1999, have kept them in the public eye.
So what is Agnetha’s new music like? The good news is that When You Really Loved Someone is going to be a big, big hit.
Agnetha’s voice is as lovely as ever, even if at first you would struggle to recognise it as hers. Then that wistful edge kicks in, for the tender ache in her voice remains intact; she still sounds hurt, as if somewhere along the line she was burned by love.
The accompanying video is shot in an empty theatre, where Agnetha is sitting in front of a dressing table mirror rimmed with lightbulbs. She looks sad. She looks like Lulu! She is looking at an old photograph, and singing to an actress playing a version of her younger self in flashbacks.
Looking back now at old Abba videos, we can see with hindsight that Agnetha was a blonde with a bad haircut, a snub nose and terrible clothes sense, but she was so hot.
Along with Anni-Frid, who had a darker beauty, they were the It-girls of the pop world. No one understood what these two “glamazon” gorgeous gals were doing with those two hairy little midgets. And in the end, it was clearly something they wondered themselves.
When Abba ended, Agnetha had a solo career of sorts – a few little hits, nothing major. She married briefly for a second time, then retired to grow crisp breads or something on her island. Not much was heard of her. Until today. In an interview with Swedish Radio’s P4 Extra programme this week, Agnetha explained that her newly-invigorated music career was a long process. She never “closed any doors”, was impressed with Elofsson’s songs and felt she could not say no.
A recluse? She says not. Her situation was not helped by her fear of flying, which followed a traumatic experience during one of the Abba tours.
Although she had therapy to deal with that, Agnetha has left the days of live performance behind her, which seems to rule out an Abba reunion any time soon.
Agnetha wrote one of the songs on the album herself. It is called I Keep Them on the Floor Beside My Bed.
What? Slippers? False teeth? Her old platform boots? A pair of axes? A bottle of vodka and a packet of crisps? Two mice in a cage? Emergency pairs of big pants? The mind boggles.
Faltskog is giving nothing away, so fans will have to wait until May to find out. In the meantime, I really hope the new album does not disappoint.
For I can still remember all the lyrics to the Abba hits, that sound as freshly minted today as they were when they were first recorded. It is a big legacy to live up to.
Yet it would be awful if, at this stage of our lives – for both of our sakes – the new Lulu-alike Agnetha produced something that was just… ordinary. – Daily Mail