The Complete ABBA by Simon Sheridan Book Review

ABBA has been a bit of an aberration in the musical world when it comes to genre success. The consensus seems to be that longevity is what sustains a pop act and keeps them relevant in an industry that’s constantly looking for the next big thing. What was hot a few years ago can be unfashionable in an instant. The pop genre has claimed the careers of many one-hit wonders. It doesn’t even seem a stretch to assume ABBA’s music would have died in a 70’s discotheque as the group faded into irrelevance.

However, within the 10 short years of ABBA’s career, these 4 Scandinavians have extended their stay thanks in part to the international success of the musical Mamma Mia!, and distinct, unforgettable tracks such as “Dancing Queen” and “SOS“, which John Lennon called one of his favorite pop songs ever. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010, ABBA has remarkably sold more than 370 million records without any sort of touring since 1982.

Their influence is still ringing through melodies today within the pop world with acts such as Katy Perry, Madonna, and Elvis Costello all referencing the band as inspiration. Producer Pete Waterman said “if you wanna make great pop records, you take ABBA records and dissect them because you can’t get any better. They are absolutely the blueprints.” If you’ve never hummed “Dancing Queen” at some point in your life, you’re lying.

Those familiar with my writing and The Daily Rotation may have read my review for Dusty Springfield’s “complete” collection. This ABBA book is built much the same. Titan Books has again compiled a gigantic encyclopedic knowledge base in the pages for any ABBA fan that must know the stories behind the hit records and reasons behind their breakup.

We learn through the book that one of the main reasons ABBA called it quits was the vicious touring schedule and constant living out of suitcases. Bjorn Ulvaeus called it a “creative hell” and “a horrific and ridiculous experience.” Anni-Frid Lyngstad added “you get tired of the hotel rooms, airports and not being able to go outside because of fans surrounding the hotels and things like that. It makes you feel kind of lonely.” Agnetha Faltskog admitted that she hated each minute of the relentless “eat, sleep, go on stage” routine. Performers don’t call touring “the killing road” for dramatic effect.

My only critique is that the prose is not engaging. Readers looking for any kind of storytelling or intimate knowledge will be disappointed. I don’t expect rock and roll debauchery on the level of Motley Crue’s excellent book “The Dirt“, but The Complete ABBA reads like evidence submitted to a court room with an emphasis on strict facts and no personal exuberance to the stories. The little anecdotes from band members serve only to back up whatever blurb is being written and does not go into detail about the lives of this alluring quartet. It feels sterile and incomplete considering the title.

While not an exhaustive look at the life and times of ABBA, what fans will get is a respectable amount of full-page glossy photos, more facts than any ABBA fan needs to know, and Simon Sheridan has a genuine appreciation for the music and their career. A harrowing account of the rise and fall of one of the most popular pop groups ever? Not quite, but readable for the fan nonetheless.

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