Abba Gold starts with two points - albums are seen as superior to compilations, and being an Abba fan puts you on the wrong side of the cred wars. The latter in particular reads like protesting too much (though in Vincentelli’s defense, her Abba love predated them getting a poptimist reappraisal), but both come up far too often through the book, defensive embarrassment undermining a capable writer who’s obviously also a sincere fan.
Vincentelli approaches the compilation album by album, chronologically, and for each song we get some combination of chart placement at the time of release, characteristic or unusual choices in the arrangement, working titles, descriptions of the videos and how the portrayal of the four individuals might work here and in the music. It’s thorough, but it’s also dull after a while and isn’t laid out like a reference one might scan but as prose.
Interesting things pop up in the course of this treatment, but many of them (like Abba’s popularity with Latin audiences, their relationship to genres, the reasons the US audience didn’t take to them as much, schmaltz) get short shrift and are generalisations. Similarly, knowing why Vincentelli enjoys the band or her personal relationship to the music would have been interesting, but there’s too little and much of it declarative. The final chapter takes a look at the significance of the compilation and the new fans it brought in, but also Eurovision and rock’s attitude to pop and too many things explored too quickly.
The subject had potential for an interesting exploration of how we reevaluate bands over time, but instead there’s a conclusion that calls Linkin Park inane (a cheap shot that repeats what’s done to Abba) and closes with Muriel’s Wedding as capturing how Abba meant “you don’t have to abide to [sic] commonly accepted definitions of hipness to be happy”.
The thing is, the oddly defensive tone is wearing and probably unnecessary when the reader has chosen the Abba volume, either liking the album or signing up to approach it in good faith anyway. The compilation format means that the backstory/writing/studio/tour narrative template can’t apply, and album by album seems a fair way to try a conventional structure instead, but the result is lacking the depth to be engaging.
Thanks to Jamie for the book!