A young – or maybe not so young – woman, settled in her own mind to unhappy but unruffled spinsterhood, finds her hopes unexpectedly awakened. Can she trust her instincts? Can she even read them? Can this really be happening? “The Name Of The Game”‘s scenario is romance-novel standard, and its emotional territory is ABBA heartland, the twilit world as a relationship shifts between ‘on’ and ‘off’. ABBA regularly find unease where most pop strides boldly forward: “Name”, in its ambition as well as its mood, anticipates “The Day Before You Came” (which could be its narrative prequel).
“The Name Of The Game”, first single off a new album, is a self-conscious step forward in craft, clustered with ideas and contrasts and hooks – I remember an Elvis Costello interview in which he singled it out as the moment he realised that, yes, ABBA were Proper Songwriters. Anyone who hadn’t spotted that by now was being a bit chumpy, in my view, and I’m also not totally sure “Name” succeeds – sometimes I love it, but on balance it’s my least favourite of their Number 1s.
The guiding principle behind the track isn’t difficult to figure out – diffident synth sweeps and clammy bassline dramatise the doubt in the verses, fanfares and harmonies on the chorus bring the hope to life. All the individual parts are terrific, and Frida and Agnetha interpret the song magnificently – but for once, I think, ABBA’s arrangements let them down. The brass feels squeezed in and almost sounds canned; the omnipresent bassline is too upfront, lumbering where it should be nagging. Lyrically, too, this is a mixed bag: the “and I am never invited” bit is striking in its candour, but the bad poetry of the “bashful child” line is an unusual mis-step. An awkward record about awkward feelings: one of ABBA’s transitional singles, where they’re staking out territories they’d explore better later on.