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Dec 99

15. TREMBLING BLUE STARS – “Abba On The Jukebox”

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Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles Of The 90s

The saddest songs are often the simplest songs. “Abba On The Jukebox” is seven minutes long and feels like a miniature, a Zen sketch of heartbreak. A short, high-toned guitar phrase over tick-tock drum-machine beats, sighs as backing vocals and a list of memories: that’s all you get. “Land’s End at dusk, a day of churches, her getting her hair cut…” What Rob Wratten discovered with the Field Mice is that if you say something plainly enough, your words work harder and you can give the most ordinary phrases the emotional weight of novels. As pop listeners we’ve got used to the idea that the best way to express a feeling is to be artful or poetic or clever, so songs as naked as “Let’s Kiss And Make Up” or “Anyone Else Isn’t You” could slip under your defenses and take you over. What he discovered with “Abba On The Jukebox” is that you didn’t even have to go that far – what makes this song so poignant is that the loss between the lines, the knowledge that these things he’s desribing can’t ever return or be remade, goes unmentioned.

Speaking literally, “Abba On The Jukebox” needn’t be a sad song at all, but you’d have to be stony-hearted and obtuse to mistake this limpid, keening music for any sort of celebration. At best it’s a coming-to-terms: the song’s litany of places, snapshot moments and tiny private actions is a way to map out a love by looking at its edges, to understand the shape of something too bright and raw for direct inspection. Halfway through the memories run out and we’re left, like the singer, with a future devoid of event. It lasts three minutes or so, it might as well last forever: it is not, precisely, unpleasant, which of course makes it all the more terrible.

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