Ellie Goulding, The Forum, Tunbridge Wells
Abbaworld, Earls Court, London
Sunday 31 January 2010
A toilet on the A26 is a funny place to flush out the future of British pop, but for now, the Forum – a converted convenience in Royal Tunbridge Wells – is about the right level for Ellie Goulding.
This won't last for much longer. It's been decided, whether you like it or not, that the 23-year-old from Hereford is going to be a star. She has won the BBC Sound of 2010 poll and the Critics' Choice Award at this year's Brits.
It's natural to bristle against such unanimity. In Ellie's case, the overriding sensation is one of mild bafflement. Tonight's cruel technical hitches don't mask the fact that Goulding, a protégée of Frankmusik, is a definite talent. What seems strange is that her feather-light folktronica has caused such acclaim. She sings in a distinctive, pseudo-foreign accent which suggests someone who's practised their chops listening to Björk and Joanna Newsom, but the lyrics are so-so, and the tunes don't knock you dead.
As we speak, Goulding is recording her debut album. It's not too late for her to cut herself loose a little, think laterally and do something astonishing. She's got it in her. Unlike last year's Critic's Choice recipient, Ellie Goulding isn't a shrieking harridan whose ubiquity will make Channel 4 ad breaks unbearable. However, unless she takes a few risks, she risks being a Dido for the new decade.
"I had all the 45s," Boy George tells me. "But then punk happened, so of course I pretended I didn't." He's not alone. For well over a decade, admitting to liking Abba in polite company was akin to opening your wallet and a membership card of the Westlife fanclub falling out. However, since about 1992, that situation has reversed.
Abba's popularity is arguably greater in 2010 than it was at their late Seventies peak, to the extent that it's considered economically viable for Live Nation to open a permanent indoor attraction/exhibition in London's Earls Court based on their works.
The VIP premiere of ABBAWORLD provides an opportunity to stalk Celebrity Big Brother evictees and fight past A-listers and Z-listers alike to get closer to the real stars. The 10-year-old me comes to the surface at the sight of half the band's personnel. Being in the presence of AB (or maybe it's BA), is a religiously moving experience for anyone who truly loves pop.
The legends themselves appear to receive an award for surpassing 375 million album sales, and officially open ABBAWORLD. Frida admits that she and Bjorn have already tried out the karaoke booth. "It was not how it was before," she smiles, "but it was OK." She might have been describing the entire exhibition.
The Abba resurgence has been driven by competing agendas. On the one hand, there's the kitsch mentality which views them merely as feel-good cheese, and turns a deaf ear to the "deep sadness in the soul of the Nordic people" of which Benny Andersson speaks. On the other, there's the view that Abba were genuinely great songwriters. As a result, ABBAWORLD has to perform a difficult balancing act between catering for the hen party and catering for the nerd.
The fun and games are the first thing you see. My wife and I slaughter "Money Money Money", and I get my arse kicked on the "Dancing Queen" dance machine. There's a sudden lurch in mood as we enter a room filled with memorabilia from the band's pre-Abba careers: Agnetha the 17-year-old starlet, a beehived Frida singing the Supremes in Swedish, Bjorn in the Hootenanny Singers and Benny in the Hep Stars ("Sweden's wildest pop band!").
Drier still is the re-creation of their Polar studio, their songwriting retreat in Viggso, and a backstage dressing room (with a chessboard and an accordion; they sure knew how to party).
Among acres of gold discs and ill-advised costumes, that fateful night in Brighton gets a room to itself. Benny Andersson's diary makes fascinating reading. "After the performance, my head is still a big buzz. I remember taking off my jacket ... but when Finland gave us five points, I squeezed back into it again."
The interactive elements are variable in quality. The gimmick where you superimpose your face on to an Abba sleeve is poor. The quiz machines are bracingly tough. The supposed highlight, however, in which one can physically "join" a holographic Abba on stage, is let down by the naffness of the cartoons.
Emblazoned everywhere in the gift shop through which one must exit, the strapline beneath the ABBAWORLD logo reads "The Music. The Memories. The Magic". As another 1970s legend sang, two out of three ain't bad.
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