Box set: Abba

Complete Studio Recordings, EPIC
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The Independent Culture

What comes across strongly from this whopping compilation of Abba's entire output - nine CDs, replete with outtakes, covering their eight albums and sundry rarities, plus an additional couple of DVDs featuring all their promo videos, a documentary, and their final concert from 1981 - is the sheer consistency of their work. There's surprisingly little difference in sound and style between their first album, Ring Ring, from 1973 and their swansong, The Visitors, from eight years later, although as they went on, Bjorn and Benny grew more and more ambitious with their arrangements. By the time of Abba - The Album (1978), they had developed a sort of shiny prog-MOR sound, smoothly bombastic without sacrificing any of its melodic appeal, and buoyed by a vaunting sense of uplift - as in "Eagle", which seems indebted at least in part to The Eagles' own "Witchy Woman", hardly the most enticing of sources. But however sophisticated their compositions became, they always retained a tight grasp on pop essentials with elegant later singles such as "The Name of the Game", "Take a Chance on Me" and "The Winner Takes It All", prime reasons why their second Greatest Hits collection was immeasurably superior to their first.