I was 14 and The Visitors was ABBA’S last studio album, poignant and complex in its lyrics, a melancholy awareness that this was the end (at least, for the next 40 years, as it turned out) running through every track.
The fact that I understood the heartache, loss and loneliness in the album, along with the fear of discovery in the title track, speaks to me now of where my head was at as a constantly terrified and traumatised gay kid growing up in a time when homophobia was rampant in society. ABBA always felt welcoming to me.
I’d loved ABBA since Waterloo but this album nailed a bunch of feelings for me. I thought it beautiful then and I still do. I go back to it time and again. I remember making the connection between the paranoid fear of discovery in the title track and my own sense of hiding from the world, not being my true self, lying about who I was in terror of my cover being blown. I hated being deceptive, keeping my liking of other boys to myself. I was an honest, good kid. Lying felt necessary but I hated it. I hated the world that, I felt, made me have to lie.
There is a sense of deep sadness and brokenness in some of the songs on The Visitors that runs counter to the image of ABBA that accumulated down the years, of them being a happy, clappy disco band. In truth, there was always so much more to them than that. By this point in their career, they’d been married, divorced, gone through traumas – and it showed in their music. With this their farewell album, as far as anyone including ABBA knew at the time, I think they decided to depart from the limelight more themselves in their music than the media machine had previously ever allowed them to be.
By 1981, ABBA had reached the point where they could do whatever they wanted. And they did. The Visitors is a superbly crafted, lyrically beautiful, melodic album and I will never stop adoring it. At the time it was released, I couldn’t imagine a world without ABBA making music in it. It was, perhaps, my first experience of how the familiar and always there for you might suddenly not be there any more.