International: Universal revamps ABBA catalog for Int'l release. By Jeffrey de Hart

Stockholm

Universal Music International has launched an overhaul of the ABBA catalog and tied it into a redesign of the Swedish group's official Web site (abbasite.com) and the premiere of Mamma Mia! on Broadway.

The last such ABBA drive occurred before Universal acquired PolyGram, which long held rights to the group's catalog.

The new range of ABBA's recordings, carved out during a December 7th planning session in Stockholm attended by Universal executives from the U.K., Germany, France, Sweden, and Japan, is scheduled to be rolled out worldwide by the company in April or May. Separate meetings are being planned for the U.S. and Latin America.

"We want to enhance the catalog," says Marko Soderstrom, marketing director at Universal Music Sweden, which is the parent company of ABBA's label and publishing imprint, Polar Music. "It's not being remastered, but there will be new booklets with the same standards as [albums by] The Beatles and David Bowie, complete with full credits and new liner notes by [ABBA expert] Carl Magnus Palm. We've had contact with [art director of the original albums] Rune Soderqvist, [photographer] Anders Hanser, and Palm to discuss various concepts for the booklets, including additional photos taken from the time period the recordings took place."

Soderstrom adds, "We have to think very carefully about what we're putting out and when we're doing it. But at some point in the future, we'll be discussing that with [ABBA's business manager] Görel Hanser."

In an interview with Billboard, ABBA member Björn Ulvaeus - who wasn't directly involved in the recent meeting at Universal (neither was fellow member Benny Andersson) - says he's "vaguely" aware of the reissue plans. "Not in detail, but these days we have a closer cooperation [with the label], I think. When they are close to the finished product they tend to show it to us for input. It's important to have a close relationship," he says.

However, Ulvaeus and Andersson have talked with Universal executives about the Mamma Mia! musical. "I like to keep [Mamma Mia! and ABBA's albums] separate, although I realize they're tied together," adds Ulvaeus. "Promotionally, of course, one helps the other. [The musical] is now showing in the UK, Canada, and beginning in the U.S. I like to see Mamma Mia! as a completely different item anyway-a musical, on its own."

According to Ulvaeus, no cast recording of Mamma Mia! is planned for release for now. Although this repackaging effectively constitutes the catalog's sixth makeover, including the various reissue programs sporadically orchestrated throughout the world on various labels since 1983, the latest effort is expected to be more closely coordinated with the U.S., where there is vast unrealized potential, according to some sources.

ABBA's Gold-Greatest Hits compilation recently peaked at No. 12 in its 193rd week on Billboard's Top Pop Catalog Albums chart in the January 20 issue; this issue, it is No. 18.

One repackaging, in 1992, was the first to be conducted after PolyGram acquired Polar in 1989. Three years later, A&M Records was the first U.S. label to accurately reproduce the original artwork with its repackaged editions. This also marked the first time the entire catalog was released on CD in the U.S. since the late 1980s, when Polar and Atlantic Records ended their long-time licensing deal.

In 1997, the CDs, including bonus tracks, were remastered and released outside the U.S. (The stateside release, without the bonus tracks, did not occur until 1999.)

As for the current reissue plans, the original ABBA logo, once altered by Polydor U.K. on some albums, will most likely be restored on the artwork. Meanwhile, some territories have requested alternate packaging, including France, where the catalog will be released as Digipaks. The CDs will also carry flyers promoting the Mamma Mia! musical.

The Gold album from 1992, having sold 20 million copies, will be repackaged to include song lyrics. The original compilation and More Abba Gold will be deleted, along with the Live album from 1986.

Regarding the Live album, Ulvaeus says, "I thought it was a quite reasonable, but not very exciting, live album. Simply because when we went on tour, which was precious little, we reproduced what we did in the studio. Other touring bands came up with live versions. It's a good album, and the sound is OK."

Of adding extra material and outtakes, Ulvaeus says, "I had a meeting with a Web site designer today, and we were talking about the extra things they put on DVDs. I better go back to Lasse Hallström [director of ABBA-The Movie and most of ABBA's music videos] and find out what there is."

Meanwhile, there are plans to replace the Live album with a release of either one CD or a double-CD set featuring "a full live evening with ABBA," which would be tied to a DVD release of ABBA-The Movie.

"I doubt it will happen this year, but it's something we'll hopefully do," says Soderstrom. "We have the original reels, but I don't know how long it will take to enhance the negatives and transfer them into a digital format. We would like to put out the live album simultaneously [with the DVD release], whether it's from the same tour or not. We have no idea how much extra footage there is from The Movie, but I've seen some cool movie trailers from other countries that would make nice extra features."

More imminent, then, would be a DVD release of the ABBA video catalog. Says Soderstrom: "We're not ready yet, but we've forwarded some sketches to Björn and Benny. We've located most of the original tapes and are restoring the video material and improving the sound. Our goal is to put something out this year. [ABBA engineer] Michael B. Tretow has gotten in touch with us about the sound quality. We may be able to use the current remastered sound and add that to the videos."

Another idea is to re-release the catalog on vinyl as well. Ulvaeus says, "Are there still any gramophones? I don't even have a turntable. Haven't had one for years." Transcribed for ABBA World

Billboard (USA) · 3 February 2001 (Pages 68 & 73)


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