ABBA: Against the Odds (2024)


ABBA: Against the Odds Review

It’s tough to recall a time when ABBA weren’t the world-conquering juggernauts they are now. They have sold 350m records, and their songs have soundtracked weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and even funerals for as long as I can remember but they weren’t always considered classic pop heroes. A critical renaissance came later, fuelled by a series of playful covers by Erasure in the Nineties and Mamma Mia! films a decade later. But back in the day some thought of the Swedish four-piece as uber-cheesy and desperately uncool.

This new documentary takes that initial backlash seriously. Created by Rogan Productions and directed by BAFTA-winner James Rogan, it’s an interesting way to tell the story of one of the most famous pop groups of all time: digging into how hard they found it to break through, examining what prevented them from breaking through for pretty much their entire careers.

We start with the Eurovision Song Contest, which they won in 1974 with their slam-dunk single Waterloo… only to be met with a lukewarm reception from both the Brits (who hosted) and those back in Sweden (where ABBA are from).

Still, they kept going – and what you get is an absorbing reconstruction of what it was like to be ABBA before they became ABBA as we know them. You see archival footage of anti-ABBA protests happening in Sweden; you hear about their months-long tour of Australia (which was an early outlier in its enthusiastic embrace of the band); you catch snippets of the relentless scrutiny they faced from newspapers.

The thing is: despite making life-changingly fantastic records there’s actually lots not to envy about being in ABBA. For every sold-out stadium, there were men asking Agnetha Fältskog how it feels to have been voted owner of “the sexiest bottom in the world”. There were the band’s gruelling travel schedules; her kids didn’t recognise her (or Ulvaeus) when she got home from yet another world tour. Indeed, one of the most startling things about this film is how little time they spent at home.

This story is partly told through archive interviews with ABBA themselves throughout their career, which gives it a pleasingly intimate feel – even if many of these insights aren’t new to us.

Alongside these are talking heads like broadcaster Paul Gambaccini, Chic singer Nile Rodgers and former members of the team’s hair and make up artistes who have joined from today to offer their own experiences and memories of meeting the band. Does it reveal anything new? Not really: how can it when so much of the most revealing footage and interviews are archival? But there are still fascinating nuggets here – such as that the Sex Pistols had a roadie whose entire job consisted of repeatedly flipping an ABBA cassette and replaying it (they loved them).

It’s fascinating to hear about ABBA’s difficulties in cracking the US, running themselves into the ground in front of a mostly cynical music press before returning to a hero’s welcome and sold-out shows at Wembley (no wonder ABBA Voyage was built in London, not LA). And half a century on from their debut they’re still great company – Benny, Bjorn, Agnetha and Anni-Frid. Sit back and enjoy the music.

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