Cover albums are usually met with people turning up their noses, add to that the musical choice is a covers album made up of Abba songs and you’ve alienated a large portion of your potential audience. Abba seems to split audiences, in my opinion it’s into three categories, the first are the fans who love the songs, then there are the haters who see Abba as nothing more than four Swedes singing about heartbreak or out-dated disco songs and then the final group, those who say they dislike Abba but secretly sing along to the hits when they come on the radio.
I can imagine if you are still reading this review, you fall into the first or third category.
This album was put together to accompany a stage show that was planned for the Brighton Fringe Festival, but due to the obvious, it’s been planned for autumn instead.
I know there is a level of snobbery around covers but I always think music should be fun and if playing that song your mum made you listen to on long car journeys brings enjoyment to you, you carry on. It’s clear Alan Bonner is a fan of Abba, and he’s chosen to not only cover the songs but go down a different path from the usual carbon copy route, that would be too easy, so instead he’s brought a melancholic mood to the songs that was there all the time, just hidden below the catchy piano riffs and vocal performances .
Opening track ‘The Day Before You Came’ used to be a little over-long in my opinion, here it’s stripped back to a Berlin cabaret feel and the twisty melody is allowed to stand out, it’s a great version. The stand-out track is ‘Cassandra’, with acoustic guitar and harmonised vocal it sounds like Simon and Garfunkel’s greatest unknown track. Bonner tackles a hands-down classic in ‘The Winner Takes It All’ which takes a few listens to really appreciate the subtle, emotional delivery of the singing, it’ll be one you either love or feel it’s not a patch on the much-loved version. But give it a few listens to let it sink in.
If there was a song that has an ending I love, it’s ‘Chiquitita’, I’ve always loved the switch from delicate ballad to rousing, foot-stomping finale and it made me wonder how this would be treated here with only piano to offer any musical harrumph. The pianist (who is Patrick O’Brian) could have opted for the easy route and allowed the song to finish on the vocal, but no, he brings something tasteful and fitting to the song and it works really well. Bravo.
We finish on title track ‘The Way Old Friends Do’ and it sounds and feels like a Christmas song, with friends singing around the piano, you can imagine the next song might Auld Lang Syne.
What Alan Bonner has done here is take some much-loved songs and looked at them from the viewpoint of a singer, he’s looked at the lyrics and meanings to the songs and has delivered a poignant and emotive take on them. I hope it gets heard by more people than those at the festival later in the year.