Without theft, there is no pop, but it’s still rather squirmsome to hear the more lumbering attempts. Brotherhood of Man’s – let’s be generous – tribute to ABBA fails partly because it doesn’t stick closely ENOUGH to its source material. ABBA records gain what emotional power they have from the force of the melody and performance letting you fill in what the lyrics miss out. So “Fernando”, a record the Brotherhood might possibly have heard when working on “Angelo”, works because the melody creates the regret the lyrics deny, and because the background to this strained campfire conversation is hinted at but never crystallised. “Angelo”, on the other hand, has no truck with such subtleties, preferring to spell out the tragic fate of shepherd boy Angelo at the same time as hammering it home with the music.
To be fair to the Brotherhood, it’s not like most death ballads don’t take this Donald-ate-the-pie* approach to storytelling. A death song pastiche of “Fernando” should more properly be something along the lines of “Ode To Billie Joe” or the Shangri-La’s “Past, Present And Future”, where it’s obvious that something apalling and unspoken is happening in the background but it’s fearfully unclear what. Both those songs are, not by coincidence, amazing. “Angelo” is not. At no point during the progress of the record do I care about Angelo, or his chick, and I don’t get any sense of place or personality or stake or anything at all, in fact the only thing in the lyric to remark on is that awkward slip into Yodaspeak in one of the verses: “Rich was she”, a clumsy shoehorn which seems to sum up the whole record.
For all that, I wouldn’t call “Angelo” actually bad. Its slipshod laziness is still a hundred times preferable to “Save All Your Kisses For Me”, and at least you get to cheer as Angelo pops his clogs. Also, by luck or study, the Brotherhood have hit on a belter of a chorus, with the “They took their LIVES that NIGHT” section as rousing an imitation of ABBA as you’ll find in the late 70s: at that moment “Angelo” seizes some kind of momentum, which it quickly squanders, but there’s still enough hook behind the clumsiness to stop me really disliking this.
*A brief explanation of Donald-ate-the-pie: this useful critical concept was introduced to me by the Dirty Vicar, and comes from a Mickey Mouse cartoon strip. Panel one shows a pie, baked by Mickey. Panel two shows Mickey’s distress as he discovers his pie has vanished. Panel three shows Donald Duck, with his long neck distorted by the unmistakable shape of a pie. Panel four shows Mickey saying “IT WAS DONALD. HE ATE THE PIE.” So it springs to mind whenever I come across exposition that is not only ungainly but actively undermines previously achieved neatness. It actually isn’t at all applicable to “Angelo”, then, which never goes anywhere near neatness, but the concept is more fun than the song really.