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Thursday, June 11, 2009

A mini-review of 'I Stand Alone' (Agnetha Fältskog, 1987)

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FWIW, I put together a quick, listener's "retro-review" of Agnetha Fältskog's solo album, I Stand Alone. (Pronounced [aŋˈneːta]. A short, funny video (link) has a pronunciation for us at the end.) This review is focused mainly upon Ms.Fältskog's voice and her singing - the primary features many listen for in solo efforts by the artist.

The review was partially posted at another site. Here is that attempt in it's entirety. (Now slightly updated; 2012.):

""Easy listenening Agnetha" = 3.75 stars (Four+ stars (of five) for Agnetha fans.) (Especially for those who - as I do - believe that age 'thirtysomething' Agnetha's feminine voice is one of the most pleasing and distinct (on record) in the last few decades (popular music). What follows is - of course - an opinion. It's not objective....):
If you're here you likely know that Ms. F
ältskog is the blonde, former front singer from 'super-group' ABBA. And perhaps also, that her singing voice is a crystal-clear wonder. As noted, that pure and sweet-sounding voice alone "earns" stars from me for any of her post-ABBA solo efforts.

I Stand Alone is 1980's easy listening; the type of album that you can have on your headphones while you go ahead and do something else. There's not much happening that you'd call riveting, but Agnetha's shiny voice is pleasant throughout; a nice back-track to almost anything. In truth, when Ms. Fältskog invokes her early idols (e.g., Connie Francis), packing her voice with plaintiveness, emotion - even angst; it's the artist at her most affecting. (Ref.: ABBA's "Hasta Manana", "SOS", "The Winner Takes It All".) There's relatively little of that to be found here. This is smoother, easy-listening Agnetha.

With Ms. F
ältskog, co-producers Peter Cetera and Bruce Gaitsch chose songs/arrangements that settled the artist into nice, relaxed vocal channels. I Stand Alone also seems slickly produced and has better overall sound quality than Agnetha's first post-ABBA solo outing, Wrap Your Arms Around Me. A nice touch: The singer's lovely, fading-in background notes setting the mood to open the record. (Track 1,"The Last Time".) And Agnetha's charming (tinge of an) accent adds a bit of spice from the beginning and throughout. (Though I also seem to detect a slight lisp at times that I never heard before or since.) Like Agnetha's clear-but-nuanced, feminine voice (as perceived by some), this album effort earns greater appreciation upon closer listening.

No (worldwide) hits sprang from the sparely-promoted work, but the first several songs (especially) are eminently listenable: E.g., Both Ms. Faltskog and Peter Cetera (can) have dramatic voices, but their duet "I Wasn't the One" doesn't have much spark for some reason; though it's still very enjoyable. (Mr. Cetera somewhat dominates it.) Agnetha's best singing moment this time around occurs near the end of pensive "Maybe It Was Magic" (after the booming drum bit), when American country artist Juice Newton seems fleetingly invoked. (Much more about this song, here.) Last song, "If You Need Somebody Tonight", is done nicely also. (Crystal-clear, yet intimate. Update: The high-fidelity recording allows us to hear the professional singer's breathing at moments (in the song.) Intriguing.... She "sighs out" (of)/has breath left over for the (short) line ending with the word "strong". Her sweet, high-voice finish (second-to-last line) is enchanting. A feeling, "Agnetha song"....)

"Love In A World Gone Mad" is sweetly sung (a voice like honey,actually) and has some "catchy-ness" to it. "Little White Secrets" is similar, and features some appealing, longing lyrics; an interpretive sweet spot for the usually-expressive singer. (Update: The song (however) is gifted with a gorgeous and powerful "close-out" by the singer (starting with the "burning dreams" line) - an example of 1980's Agnetha at her best. ( Especially evident on better-fidelity recordings.
A singer adept at (seemingly) "getting personal" with the listener via her voice, at moments. More here (link - future post).) Speaking of best, Ms. Fältskog is never more smooth than on "Let It Shine", a comparatively bright song for her. It's perfectly delivered. And though we learn that she's not Pat Benatar, I appreciate her nice attempt at a bit of a "rocker" with "We Got A Way". The world's clearest/sweetest-voiced rocker on this one, perhaps. (Updated note: As with a few of her other solo songs, the bright-voiced singer seems to 'warm-up" to this song as it moves along. A little tentative at its beginning...)  
It might again just be me but I (also) find the title track's execution a bit curious: The refrain's beginning, independent-woman lyrics are sung with conviction (possibly employing the backing vocalists?). But the "punch line" (i.e., "I stand alone") is (then) delivered by Ms. Fältskog in a girlish, almost meek-sounding voice at times. Perhaps a little quirk....

Wrap: Overall, I'm confident that your own favorites can be found here, if you enjoy a nice voice in a generally laid-back, easy listening format.

What is pleasant? Agnetha's almost serene outing on I Stand Alone. "

Updated blog note: The Agnetha.net website (Bio section) places sales of this album in the neighborhood of 2 million copies. (Unverified.)  Also: Here's a very good effort featuring insightful reviews of all of Ms. Fältskog's solo music (link): http://felpin80.tripod.com/ata/annasolo.html

Updated note: One song not mentioned above is "Are You Gonna Throw It All Away" (song no. 9 on the album). An example - for me - of how an Agnetha effort can "grow" upon a listener over time. For some reason this song doesn't really grab the listener, but Agnetha's sweet and feminine higher voice is appealing, upon further review. But perhaps her higher-voiced efforts are often better used as accent - or as a pleasant "surprise". (Pls. ref. the ending of the last song on this album.) It may be "sweetness overload" within this particular song. So much so that it becomes bland or too much of the same thing, as the singer spends much time using that area of her voice. However, to me it is still impressive how the singer alternates between her "higher voice" and "lower voice" on sections of "...Throw It All Away". 
As with all prolific artists not every effort is going to be a triumph. Still, for some reason it is easy to overlook nuances mentioned above upon the first couple of listens....
It is amazing what Agnetha could do with that rangy and super-sweet voice, when one considers it.

And a YT "find" for real fans: Go waaay behind the scenes of the making of I Stand Alone with Peter Cetera and Agnetha! Thanks to 'Ljus85' for posting this rare video, which may have been a WEA record company "thing". It's bad quality, but you can get the idea. Gotta love the basketball-playing Agnetha....Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2kT4NssGwQY&feature=related 

And also: From the 'ABBA: The Articles' website, read a piece where Agnetha talks a bit about the I Stand Alone album. (Link to the article. I'd bet that Ms. Fältskog did not appreciate the (unfavorable) headline that was written for it... )

Bonus: Link (below) to a well-done interview on You Tube from 1987 (in Swedish, with subtitles). This beautiful singer definitely does have charisma as is noted at the end. But as usual, she was guarded (or modest) about examining personal qualities, even positive ones. A pleasant chat though, and a good inquiry from the engaging interviewer about Agnetha being on stage and her feelings toward connecting with her public. (Interesting re the (international) career though: She then proceeded to "shut it down" for nearly 17 years shortly after this album and her promo interviews....)

Excellent You Tube-er comment here: "...her voice is a cure...." Hope this video stays posted: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3qWivlHBpE

Blog Note: This blog entry is backdated to better fit within the order of posts here. It's actual creation date is 8/15/09.
Link to my full blog: http://star4abba.blogspot.com/

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