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ABBA - The Definitive Collection
Universal Music/Universal Music . R4 . COLOR . 136 mins . E . PAL

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When colour television finally arrived in Australia back in the mid-‘70s, it brought more into our lives than just an end to watching things in various shades of grey. Sunday’s religious experience that was ABC TV’s Countdown also came to life, and delivered us inarguably the only group of pop geniuses to ever rival The Beatles for consistency – Sweden's ABBA. Memories of bopping all over the lounge room to Mamma Mia will never fade, nor will the fact that the 7” single of that very song remains the only one to this day I ever managed to almost completely wear the grooves off. Basically there were two schools of thought on the band – you either loved them, or you were a complete idiot!

OK, putting some biases aside, with a swag of songs that redefined catchy, and video clips with more glitter, sparkles and spangles than the biggest Mardi Gras you could imagine, Anni-Frid (Frida - the coolest one), Benny, Bjorn and Agnetha seemed to be two perfect couples delivered to us from some amazing Planet Pop that hovered way out there somewhere (although admittedly Sweden seemed pretty much as distant to an eight year old). And to think, they only embraced the video format, which was instrumental in bringing them their massive success, due to basic laziness – they didn’t really dig the touring thing – truly serendipity at work, especially for the later very successful director Lasse Hallstrom (My Life As A Dog, Chocolat, The Cider House Rules and, of course, ABBA – The Movie) who was responsible for almost all of ABBA’s clips. Hit after hit seemed to roll out from the foursome with remarkable ease – the Eurovision stormer Waterloo, the Neil Sedaka assisted Ring Ring (you can’t blame ABBA’s Swedishness for the crap lyrics on that one), I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, the gorgeous SOS (a favourite of Sid Vicious no less), the song that seemed to be number one for about six months (and almost was) Fernando, Money, Money Money, Knowing Me, Knowing You and, of course, Dancing Queen. All of which are included here in their original, official promo clip form.

While the music world moved on as it always does, bringing us such excitements as punk, new wave and even new romanticism, ABBA remained stalwart purveyors of pure pop, even if things did tend to become more serious along the way, pretty much mirroring their personal lives – goodness, they were real people after all! The hits may have been fewer, but the quality never waned, and fabulous tracks such as The Name of the Game, Eagle, Chiquitita, Does Your Mother Know?, The Winner Takes it All and the fabulous Take a Chance on Me, as included on this disc, all stand as testament to this.

Being a collection of all the “official” clips from the band, and all from a period of just eight years, there are a few album tracks interspersed throughout, and also the seeming odd omission – such as the B-side of I Do etc, Rock Me, which was a hit here in its own right, and sadly the Eurovision-winning performance of Waterloo didn’t make it. Still, there are 30 official promos on offer, running for just under two hours. Add to this five bonuses – three Spanish version clips, plus TV performances of the delightful When I Kissed the Teacher and THAT super-hit Dancing Queen (at the Royal Swedish Opera with super-froufrou gowns no less!) - and surely nobody could be too disappointed with this brilliant collection.

Track listing:

Waterloo
Ring Ring
Mamma Mia
SOS
Bang-a-Boomerang
I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do
Fernando
Dancing Queen
Money, Money, Money
Knowing Me, Knowing You
That's Me
The Name of the Game
Take a Chance on Me
Eagle
One Man, One Woman
Thank You For the Music
Summer Night City
Chiquitita
Does Your Mother Know?
Voulez-Vous
Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)
On and On and On
The Winner Takes it All
Super Trouper
Happy New Year
When All is Said and Done
One of Us
Head Over Heels
The Day Before You Came
Under Attack

Bonus tracks:

When I Kissed the Teacher
Estoy Sonando (I Have a Dream)
Felicidad (Happy New Year)
No Hay a Quien Culpar (When All is Said and Done)
Dancing Queen

  Video
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Contract

The video has apparently all been digitally remastered from the original negatives, although to be honest it still doesn’t look that great in many places. Earlier clips shot on film exhibit quite a bit of grain and the odd flecks and speckles, and detail is sometimes less than fab due to the general darkness on display. Still, to put it all in perspective, it all looks much better than clear recollections of this non-Liverpudlian fab four struggling to be seen behind flurries of white fuzz as when they were aired on telly all those years ago. Four of the early clips have burnt in song titles, which were on the original collection of four clips sent to TV stations as a sort of mini-movie package, however otherwise they are all completely clear of added titling. It’s all on a dual-layered disc, with the layer change obviously hidden in-between songs as there are no horrific interruptions. Speaking of which, curiously there are track searches jumping around like a possessed game of Frogger on steroids from song to song, however once more no interruptions are caused to either sound or vision.

The original clip sound has, for the most part, been replaced with what are apparently 24-bit remastered versions, and mercifully it has all been synched beautifully and sounds wonderful, with only some spots looking a bit out of whack - and as it's all generally mimed it was probably like that originally. The one exception is On and On and On, which is a previously unavailable extended version that was used for accompaniment to a photo montage by Anders Hanser, and appears here in mono complete with a few very annoying dropouts. Otherwise the Dolby Digital Stereo audio is fantastic, and it also works well when detoured through a Prologic decoder, with vocals front and centre, and music nicely splashed about the room – although the subwoofwoof keeps a seemingly awed silence.

A small selection of extras also graces the package. The first thing you’ll notice on eagerly popping open the case is a booklet. At a pleasingly chunky 20 pages and in full colour, it’s full of clip stills and a quite thorough story on the band and their visual output. As for disc-based bonuses, a rather large photo gallery, featuring around 170 piccies (including a certain one of Bjorn twice for some reason) covering promo stills, live shots and what appear to be in private shots, plays away for just shy of 21 minutes, with a selection of ABBA tunes as accompaniment. A fun look once, even if some of the shots have heads cruelly half-severed. Otherwise there is a 40 second credits sequence, not surprisingly accompanied by Thank You For the Music and... well, a very nice feature is that you can play all the clips on the disc randomly.

The blue eye shadow, the star guitar, those fabulous profile/front on shots, the cheesy video effects, Frida’s ever-boofier hair that at one point seemed destined to eat the band, Bjorn’s perma-cheesy grin, Benny’s look of a happy uncle who just kind of blew in to tinkle a few ivories – they’re all here in all their fabulously poptastic glory, complete with all the wonderful memories of kiddiehood that go along with them for many of us. Oh, and there’s some pretty damned finely crafted pop tunes, too...

ABBA became a bigger export for Sweden than Volvos, and this DVD collection ably demonstrates why. Just watch it stay at number one longer than Fernando ever did...


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  •   And I quote...
    "A perfect way to discover why ABBA became a bigger export for Sweden than Volvo..."
    - Amy Flower
      Review Equipment
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          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECR042
    • Subwoofer:
          DTX Digital 4.8
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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