In November 2021, ABBA released their ninth studio album Voyage. It was the Swedish quartet’s first studio album in almost 40 years – an unprecedented gap in output for a superstar group. It’s not the longest gap between releases – niche groups like The Sonics, Fanny, Strawberry Alarm Clock, and The Standells have all taken longer between releases, but to ar less fanfare. On this list, Voyage is compared to the run of albums that the group released between 1973 and 1981.
The quartet of Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. Ulvaeus and Andersson both had enjoyed success in folk bands in the 1960s and formed ABBA’s songwriting team. Fältskog was already a solo star in Sweden, while Lyngstad had enjoyed smaller-scale success as a jazz singer. Pooling their talents the four became phenomenally popular in the 1970s, scoring worldwide hits like ‘SOS’, ‘Dancing Queen’, and ‘Take A Chance On Me’.
ABBA have a reputation as a singles band rather than an albums band. This is justified with regards to their early work – they were creating worldwide hits like ‘Waterloo’ before they started making solid albums. But looking back at their career in retrospect, they have albums that are enjoyable the whole way through. Here are ABBA’s nine studio albums, ranked from worst to best.
#9 Ring Ring
ABBA didn’t yet have a name when they released their debut album – it was credited to Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Frida. Despite the group’s collective talents, they hadn’t figured out their act – the men sing more often than on subsequent releases, and they try everything from country on ‘He Is Your Brother’ to a show tune on ‘I Am Just A Girl’. The single ‘Ring Ring’ was a minor hit, but it’s primitive compared to later triumphs.
The title track of Waterloo famously won ABBA the Eurovision Song Contest, and it’s their first classic song. But like Ring Ring, Waterloo is the inconsistent output of a group searching for its identity. There’s oddball material like the reggae of ‘Sitting In A Palm Tree’ and the glam of ‘King Kong Song’. The minor hit ‘Honey Honey’ is pretty, but ABBA would shortly release much stronger albums.
It’s unprecedented for a major group to release a new album after more than half a lifetime away. To ABBA’s credit, Voyage is a dignified return; it follows the ABBA formula of catchy songs with dark undercurrents and it doesn’t chase trendy sounds. It’s often more kitsch than their 1970s heyday; ‘Ode to Freedom’, ‘Bumblebee’ and the children’s choir of ‘Little Things’ all could have come from stage musicals. But there’s some genuinely strong material – ‘Don’t Shut Me Down’ is propulsive, the 1970s leftover ‘Just A Notion’ is a worthy addition to their stellar catalogue, and ‘Keep An Eye On Dan’ is fascinating. Despite the impressive achievement of creating a worthy comeback after so long away, Voyage still ranks in the lower half of ABBA’s discography.
ABBA started to hit their peak with their third album – Ulvaeus later said that “ABBA found its identity as a pop group with the release of “SOS””. ‘SOS’ wasn’t the only hit from ABBA – there’s also ‘Mamma Mia’ and ‘I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’, while the forgotten glam of ‘So Long’ was actually the first single released from the record. There are still some awkward moments, like another venture into reggae on ‘Tropical Loveland’, but it just about sustains its momentum for a full album.
ABBA embraced disco on their sixth album – the title track and ‘Angeleyes’ followed The Bee Gees onto the dance floor. It’s not all disco – there’s the torch song ‘I Have A Dream’, while ‘Does Your Mother Know’ is the only ABBA hit to feature the vocals of Ulvaeus. Best of all is ‘Chiquitita’, a ballad with an arrangement inspired by Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘El Condor Pasa’ that showcases the gorgeous vocals of Fältskog and Lyngstad.
ABBA’s fourth album is arguably their most hit-laden – ‘Dancing Queen’ is their signature song, while ‘Money Money Money’, ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’, and on some editions ‘Fernando’, are also present. The cover, with the group in a helicopter, is their most iconic. It’s notable for songs that are much stronger than their titles suggest, like ‘Dum Dum Diddle’ and the excellent opener ‘When I Kissed the Teacher’. ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ is the first emotionally wrenching ABBA song – there’d be more to follow on their more mature later albums.
#3 Super Trouper
The cheeriness of Voulez-Vous largely concealed the issues within the ABBA camp. On Super Trouper, however, the sadness of Agnetha and Ulvaeus’ divorce is reflected in ‘The Winner Takes It All’. Super Trouper often comes across as an improved version of Voulez-Vous – ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’ is a great dance floor filler, and ‘Our Last Summer’ is a stronger ballad than anything on Voulez-Vous. The synth-pop of ‘Me And I’ is one of ABBA’s best deep cuts – it should have been a hit single.
#2 ABBA: The Album
ABBA: The Album accompanied ABBA: The Movie, a documentary about the group’s tour of Australia. It marked the peak of the group’s success – in communist Poland, sales of the album exhausted the country’s supply of foreign currency. The first side is magnificent – the opener ‘Eagle’ soars close to progressive rock, while ‘Take a Chance on Me’ and ‘The Name of the Game’ are brilliant and sophisticated pop. The suite that closes the second side – The Girl with the Golden Hair: Three Scenes From a Mini-Musical – is a slight letdown compared to the rest of the record.
#1 The Visitors
ABBA’s final album from their initial tenure is their weirdest, but also their most consistent. It’s almost as though Ulvaeus and Andersson stopped chasing hits and instead wrote music for themselves. The single ‘One of Us’ is well crafted but less buoyant than ABBA’s best work. The Visitors, however, i’s laden with enjoyable album cuts like the gorgeous ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’. Synth-laden tracks like the title track and ‘I Let The Music Speak’ show the group adapting successfully to 1980s music trends. Later editions add ABBA’s final singles as bonus tracks – ‘Under Attack’, ‘The Day Before You Came’, and ‘Should I Laugh Or Cry?’ are all first-rate ABBA songs.
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What’s your favourite ABBA song?