ABBA ‘Ring Ring’ Deluxe Edition (EMI)
The album reissue is certainly a controversial topic; the cynical amongst us view it as merely an attempt to cash in on an artist’s back catalogue whereas some believe it’s a great way to get our hands on that elusive rarity. Those of us with a penchant for rose tinted glasses may even see it as a tribute to an artist, to expose a whole new generation to their work. Or for die-hard fans to get hold of absolutely every last scrap of recorded material their idol/s released, plus a few additional juicy bonuses besides. Me? I tend to flit between all of these schools of thought, and where my dice land is based on a couple of factors. Who the artist is, and how long ago the initial album was released are the main two. I also tend to be more cynical if the artist is still recording and releasing new material.
The artist in question here is of course the almighty Scandinavian pop juggernaut that was Abba. Whatever your musical preferences, you can’t hate Abba – their particular brand of brilliantly honest, hook crammed and very slightly emotionally tinged pop is about as inoffensive as said genre gets. I grew up with 1980 album ‘Super Trouper’ being played in my house on a fairly regular basis, and despite not being entirely sure what the phrase meant, I would insist on repeated plays and my father was only too happy to oblige.
‘Ring Ring’ was the band’s 1973 debut and whilst it wasn’t exactly a worldwide success, it still achieved 3x platinum certification in Australia and a No.2 chart position in the band’s native Sweden as well as No.1 in nearby Belgium. Unlike current bands that seem to release only a couple of tracks from an album as singles, Abba released a total of nine of the original tracks from ‘Ring Ring’ worldwide between 1972 – 1973. Perhaps the best known track from the album (to the casual listener, anyway) is the raucous pop bombast of the Neil Sedaka co-written title track.
This particular ‘Deluxe’ Edition of the album comes in a two disc format. The first is a CD split into three sections. The first, perhaps obviously, is the full original album. The second and third sections comprise a slew of bonus tracks including – most interestingly – the title track in no fewer than three additional languages; Swedish, German and Spanish. The third section is devoted especially to six early versions of main album tracks. The second disc is a DVD including interviews, live performances and an ‘International Sleeve Gallery’ – and surprising as this may seem, no the latter is not a tribute to the bands tailor.
So, the album itself then – beginning with the raucous pop of the title track, you immediately get a sense of Abba’s ultra-infectious songwriting and Anni-Frid and Agnethas superbly powerful vocals… and oh dear. Unfortunately, it goes downhill from there. Descending into the realms of horrendously dated sub – par folk, the rest of the album lacks the pristine pop sheen and songwriting finesse of ‘Ring Ring’, which thankfully re appeared through much of the bands later output. The only slight saving grace is final track (on the album proper) ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Band’, but even this pales in comparison to later material.
The bonus tracks fare no better; most fall into the same trap as the album itself – formulaic, dull folk music. Aforementioned multiple versions of ‘Ring Ring’ aside, the only thing of note is a promotional track for the band’s 1973 tour of Sweden – which is rendered pointless if you don’t speak Swedish. The early versions of album tracks would be mildly interesting if the songs themselves were any cop, but sadly they aren’t. They are only of any use as a means of charting the evolution of the songs and picking out the better production of the album versions.
This re-release falls firmly into two camps. Shameless cash-in for one, and if I’m being kinder it’s a great package for all you die-hard Abba completists out there. If you don’t fit this description, it’s hard to recommend this as a purchase. Opt instead for one of the Abba Gold compilations; they contain all the essentials from the band’s catalogue.
Thanks to Dan McCormick from Prescription PR for sending me the album for review.