Review Summary: A definitive example of a record you need not laugh at, but laugh (and dance) along with.
Everybody familiar with reviews will know that one piece of media that is bound to divide audiences and critics, either because of its shameless appeals to the lowest common denominator or because of its thickly-layered pretentiousness. Arrival
falls in the former but it is also so much more than that, it is self-aware in its cheesiness and could even be described as ambitious in terms of how it strives to create the definitive pop tune. Because of the unassuming nature of the material itself the album was not critically appreciated upon its release, despite being a massive hit with audiences worldwide, as even pure brazen pop can be misunderstood but retrospectively can only be marveled at in how it defined so much of European pop to this day.
Indeed, it was perhaps even impossible for critics to praise Arrival
upon its release, it seemed destined to be proven worthwhile over time by its long-term influence on audiences. When it comes to songwriting, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus' motto has always been "It's just a song", and on this album that attitude reached its logical extreme in ABBA's material, with songs purely focused on the combination of how the flow of a lyric and a certain chord progression creates a hook. In the context of Europop, ABBA's version of the Spectorian 'Wall of Sound' has become so instantly recognizable that upon hearing it you know when Benny and Björn are behind the wheel, or when someone is invoking them.
This distinctive vinyl-friendly sound permeates the entirety of Arrival
in a way that helped bring the necessary credibility this kind of material needed for audiences to have an incentive to buy the records. Even though Agnetha Fältskog hated performing live, during their early years ABBA wasn't thought of as an 'albums band', and the band went about disagreeing by recording some of the most intricate harmonies possible with the recording equipment of their time, which became practically irreplicable in a live setting. This unabashedly cheesy production comes through in a way describable almost as whipped cream, dense and soft but not chaotic, the songwriting and vocal performances being the cake of the material. The prime example of this type of presentation is of course "Dancing Queen", if you haven't heard the original you have at least heard it referenced, it is almost as recognizable as a sound as Sherlock Holmes is as an image.
While Benny and Björn were handling the songwriting and production, the unique dynamic between Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Agnetha Fältskog brought the songs to life in a way that made their mindlessness acceptable. The singers' Scandinavian accents shining through their vocals being their way of saying you're not supposed to think about songs like "Dum Dum Diddle", instead they're asking you to treat everything on Arrival
with a sense of humour. Everybody clearly knew what they were doing on this record, and despite the sometimes nonsensical lyrics, once you realize the intention the record becomes so much more enjoyable, when you're not laughing at Frida and Agnetha but along with them.
In tandem with the professional songwriting, as an album Arrival
is expertly crafted, dripping all the hits little by little and going for a change of pace with the ballad "My Love, My Life", and "Why Did It Have To Be Me" for the guys. Because every song on the album is as unassuming as the others, the quality doesn't waver significantly at all, every song sounds like a hit in its own right and every shift in tone comes at the most opportune moment, the closing instrumental title track sounding almost like a celebration in how victorious it sounds. If there is anything to critique about the poetry, as a cohesive unit and in how every piece of writing and arrangement fits together, this album rectifies all artistic caveats by offering pure, flagrant sound.
In terms of the material here purely in and of itself, it's easy to dismiss Benny and Björn as ambitionless professionals churning out an album of no poetic significance, but considering how seemingly obsessed Arrival
is to not make a statement it becomes a statement in and of itself. It is so fearless to be pure entertainment that the social or political atmospheres of its time don't hinder it one bit, and because it doesn't want to reference them in any way it becomes timeless, a record you can enjoy whether you're in 1977 or 2077. Regardless of the depth of the artistry on display, as a music consumer this album is possibly the easiest of all time to get into, and as a music fan this album is an essential listen for one who wants to understand what would be the beginning of the end for international Europop.