THE DAY BEFORE YOU CAME / ABBA
Updated: Nov 8, 2018
UK Chart Position: 32
Where to start with this? This was the second to last Abba single and one off the last things they ever recorded. Commercially they went from “imperial phase” to “falling off a cliff” incredibly quickly, so much so that it was only their last two singles that didn’t bother the business end of the charts. Indeed, it seems pragmatically Swedish that they quickly realised their commercial nosedive and - with a business-like shrug of the shoulders - shuffled off the pop stage with an understated Nordic sense of realism.
Abba had carved that peculiar niche that only great pop groups can pull off, by being apart from fashion and just “being”. When they chased a musical trend (as they did with disco ) they were always slightly behind the curve. Which is why it’s satisfying that their last but one single is like a polished iceberg, resolutely them, not pandering to commerciality. And in its own way, it also follows their history of hanging out their dirty washing in public. We’d had the divorce years (Knowing Me Knowing You), the “I’ll see you in court!” years (The Winner Takes it All) and then this appears to be the murderer/stalker years. Thank god they split up when they did. No wonder it didn’t make the cut for “Mamma Mia”. Even Meryl couldn’t pull off this amount of absolute despair.
Lyrically, it’s fascinating and there are a few different theories about what it’s actually about. The most common one is that poor old Agnetha is singing from beyond the grave and has been murdered by her lover. In the song she’s recounting her last day before he “came” (snigger). The conversational tone and mundanity of her life is underpinned by very Swedish-noir hints at depression and/or mental illness (she needs a lot of sleep, it’s constantly raining). And the whole song is never really resolved. You don’t know what happens when the lover “comes” (titter) but you know that he isn't bringing happiness or joy.
The video backs the theory up (partly) when the group are shot together in a theatre. Dressed in black (symbolism alert!), Agentha struggles on whilst the rest of the group, dressed in white (ok we get it!), appear to be completely unaware of her presence (AS IF SHE'S A GHOST)
An alternative theory (and one which I sort of prefer) is that in a true "Brookside buried-under-the-patio" moment of revenge, she’s actually murdered the lover and is now being cross examined, hence the vague, constant recalling of events in the past ('I must have gone to lunch”, “I must have had my seventh cigarette” ). And there’s a mysterious time gap in the song between her leaving work and arriving home with her take away. What happened then?
The whole psycho drama is enhanced by the sparse, stripped back electronica, icy cold keyboards and ghostly, celestial backing vocals. As career sign-offs go, this is as dark and haunting as they come.
The Moment: At 2:21 when she sighs “I’m sure my life was well within its usual frame” in a cracked, hollow voice.
In a word: Chilling