Agnetha - Now playing in San Diego
Six months ago, if someone had said I would be listening to Agnetha's new album in six months time, I would said they're lying and I wouldn't believe it until the album was in my hands. However, on Saturday, April 24, that moment arrived. Agnetha's new album was there in my hands and for the first time in a long time I was actually excited about a CD. I did not pursue any early downloads to play while I was waiting for the album to arrive, so I was very anxious to hear the album in its entirety with the opportunity to read through the liner notes while listening. I had to race back to the apartment and quickly throw it into my computer to rip the songs on it for my portable MP3 player and do it quickly because I had to leave 10 minutes later to take my parents to a local production of "Chess".
I had to resist the urge to just play the album instead of patiently waiting for the album to be encoded in MP3 format and then downloaded to my player. Never did the process of ripping songs at twenty times their normal playing speed ever feel so slow. I tried to pass those couple of minutes by looking through the liner notes and I ended up needing to look through it twice because I still had a few more songs to go on the ripping process following my first pass through the booklet. I really wasn't overly impressed with the look of the booklet but it's certainly not the worst I've seen either. I think the long absence of Agnetha made me hope for a bit more of a glossy booklet and color photographs, but as a concept the look seems to suit the album.
The ripping process and getting the songs on to my portable player took a little longer than the time I really had so I called my parents to say I'd be a few minutes late and fortunately, I didn't have to explain why. I brought both the CD and my portable player with me as I hoped I'd be able to convince my folks to ride in my car so I could play the songs off the portable player. But they wanted to go in their Volvo, so oddly appropriate, my very first listen to Agnetha's album was as a passenger in a Volvo on the way to see "Chess." Could it get anymore Swedish?
The initial play of the album made for some nice relaxing background music but did not give me the opportunity to delve into the album with as much attention as I would have liked. Upon its completion my father was quick to eject the disc, to signal his protest to having to hear it a second time. I guess I should scratch the idea of getting him a copy for Father's Day in June. As my parents would have been in their youth at the times these songs were originally released by the artists who would have inspired Agnetha, I was hoping to hear, "I know this song" at least once from either of my folks, but they didn't indicate any glimmer of recognition to any of the songs.
Aside from "If I Thought You'd Ever Change Your Mind" which I had been listening to for the last couple of months, and a Miss Piggy from the Muppets version of "What Now My Love" all the songs on Agnetha's album were new to me. Lyrically, I think Agnetha went with a very depressing selection of songs. As Agnetha did not write the songs, but rather chose them as favourites from her childhood, it's a little tough to judge if the lyrics have any overall meaning. Some fans have suggested that "Past, Present, And Future" is practically about her relationship with her stalker, but as Freud used to say, "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar" meaning that not everything needs to be analyzed for hidden meanings. I feel that the song choices are in the same vein as a number of the songs Agnetha sings with ABBA. But what's interesting is that a lot of the lyrics have adopted some of the qualities of strength that would be more associated with her ABBA counterpart, Frida. Agnetha is usually known more for the "Woe-is-me" victim style songs, but the choices here on "My Colouring Book" have a little more assertiveness that wasn't necessarily present in her previous English works.
Perhaps a lot of that is also a carry over from the fact she's chosen to do this album on her own without any label involvement until it was time to start distributing the album. I certainly admire the independent spirit in which Agnetha has done this album. She's making sure that everything is on her terms including which methods of promotion she's willing to participate in. Sure, it was a little disappointing that she was the one member of ABBA who did not appear at the fifth anniversary of Mamma Mia! In London at the start of April, but it wasn't unexpected that she would not be in attendance. She's not going to let any label or previous role she's played affect what she is willing and not willing to do for the sake of the album. While I think pulling out of the planned promotional tour might not have been in the best interest of sales for her album, I do applaud Agnetha for coming up with a documentary as an alternative. Sure, it's not the same, but it's still something that she can control and be comfortable with to help the publicity machine for her album.
Inevitably, Agnetha's new album is going to be compared to the album Frida did in 1996 also following several years outside of the spotlight. I think both Agnetha and Frida managed to achieve a sense of inner peace and comfort in their performances that was lacking from their solo works released in the years following ABBA. Neither woman had to release an album and both have done so of their own accord and took the time to record them and release them when they felt comfortable doing so. It's a quality that is difficult to describe, but seems to really shine through when comparing these newest albums to those released by these two ladies in the 80's.
Some fans criticize Frida's 1996 album for sounding like an Anders Glenmark album with Frida doing the vocals instead of Anders. Considering he wrote almost all of the album as well as produced it, I think there is a lot of merit in that assessment, but at the same time, it was done with Frida's consent and if she wasn't happy with that, it wouldn't have been released. I look at it as that is what Frida felt comfortable with at the time and I think she gave such a remarkable performance, it has been one of only a handful of albums in my collection of thousands of albums that gets to come back out and be played on a somewhat regular basis. If Anders was a form of a crutch to Frida felt she needed to do an album, then it's no different than Agnetha's choice to do a cover album of songs from her youth. While Frida chose to record in Swedish, I think Agnetha probably went more out on a limb by doing an English language album. Granted, the songs she selected would have been in English when she heard them originally, but as someone who's avoided the media as much as she has in the last decade, it might have been a safer and easier to manage choice to record in Swedish.
One of the things that stands out in my mind was a comment that Frida made at the Las Vegas Mamma Mia premiere in February 2003 when she was asked about a follow up album to her 1996 album, and she indicated that she didn't want to do another one because of how she was criticized for being a woman of her age doing a doing a contemporary album as if she was trying to recapture her youth. Agnetha is escaping a lot of similar criticism by having done an album of period songs with rich orchestration. In that sense she's created an album that's already got an "aged" for timeless quality built into it and extracts it from looking and sounding like a 2004 album.
Overall I am very pleased with the album. I think Agnetha did a remarkable job and I thank her for introducing me to these songs I wouldn't be listening to otherwise. The extent of my emotional reaction to the album was that I couldn't stop myself from smiling at being able to hear new songs from a voice I wasn't expecting to hear an album from again. One of the things I would certainly like to recommend to those out there who have gotten the album is to make sure to give the album a listen with a good pair of headphones as the wonderful orchestrations shine through even more than when listening over loudspeakers or in a car.
Now that the album is in my hands, I don't need to pinch myself to make sure this moment is for real. I am pleased to say Agnetha's album is here and I like it.
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