ABBA (Polydor Voyage)
Verdict: The winners take it all back
There was always going to be one big question surrounding the release of Abba’s first album in 40 years.
Could the Swedish super troupers have come up with songs that can be compared to classics like Dancing Queen or Knowing Me, Knowing You
Voyage is out today and the answer is in large part a yes. The quartet’s first album since 1981’s The Visitors rekindles the heartfelt storytelling and melodic genius that helped turn the group into one of pop’s greatest success stories – a band who sold more than 400million albums in their heyday and later captured the hearts of a younger generation through the Mamma Mia jukebox musicals.
Abba was always a two-sided band. They announced their return in September with Abba Voyage. This series of concerts featured digital avatars of their younger selves. On the one side, there was the joyful, stack-heeled stomping hits like Waterloo. On the other hand, we had the melancholy depths of Slipping Through my Fingers and The Winner Takes It all. Both extremes are at play here.
There was always going to be one big question surrounding the release of Abba’s first album in 40 years. Can the Swedish super-troupers come up with songs that can be compared to classics like Dancing Queen or Knowing Me, Knowing You.
As the band were winding down activities in the early 1980s (they never officially split) they found themselves chasing that decade’s electronic music fashions rather than setting the trends as they once did. But they claim to have worked on Voyage ‘absolutely trend-blind’, thus allowing Agnetha Faltskog, 71, Bjorn Ulvaeus, 76, Benny Andersson, 74, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, 75, to play to their traditional strengths.
Several songs here feature a familiar wall of sound built around guitars, keyboards, percussion, orchestral flourishes – and, best of all, Agnetha and Anni-Frid’s peerless vocal blend.
Three of the ten tracks – split evenly between ballads and more upbeat songs – have already been released as singles, and all crop up early in the running order. The closing song, I Still Have Faith In You, is a powerful ballad that would be a great curtain-raiser for Abba Voyage’s London opening next May.
Don’t Shut Me Down frames the band’s quirkier side. Just A Notion is the more recent single. Originally recorded for 1979’s Voulez-Vous LP, and then mystifyingly put back in the vaults, it finds the rich, multi-tracked voices of Anni-Frid and Agnetha in full-on Waterloo mode.
The quartet’s first album since 1981’s The Visitors rekindles the heartfelt storytelling and melodic genius that helped turn the group into one of pop’s greatest success stories
The group recorded a new backing track, but the vocals from their original session remain intact. With saxophones to the fore, and Benny belting out his best Fats Domino piano rhythm, it’s one of the catchiest things here.
The two remaining tracks in an upbeat first half are When You Danced With Me, its simpler sounds serving as a reminder of Benny’s roots in Scandinavian folk music, and the kitsch Little Things, a family Christmas song complete with flute, clarinet, children’s choir and a snippet of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. If you found 1976’s Fernando corny, this one might be even harder to stomach.
Abba can still deliver a powerful emotional punch when they are at their best. Voyage’s core is made up of two classic kitchen sink dramas, I Can Be That Woman, and Keep an Eye On Dan. These dramas tackle alcohol addiction as well as divorce.
The band consists of two former married couples (now on good terms) and it’s difficult not to see these songs in terms of their own experiences. I Can Be That Woman is this year’s Winner Takes It All, a big, orchestral ballad about a toxic, alcohol-fuelled relationship – seen partly through the eyes of the warring couple’s pet dog, Tammy.
Several songs here feature a familiar wall of sound built around guitars, keyboards, percussion, orchestral flourishes – and, best of all, Agnetha and Anni-Frid’s peerless vocal blend. Pictured: ABBA in late 1970s
‘You look frail as you stand before me, then you curse and kick a chair,’ lament the girls. ‘And the dog, bless her heart, licks my fingers, but she jerks every time you swear.’
It’s melodramatic, and ought to be ridiculous, but somehow it manages to be moving. Given that Adele’s forthcoming album contains tracks called Cry Your Heart Out and Love Is A Game, music fans are clearly in for an autumn of big tear-jerkers.
Keep an eye on Dan is another Abba classic mini-drama. Despite looking at a divorce through the eyes of a child facing the agony of shared custody, it’s musically more upbeat, with booming drums, electronics and, in a clever touch, a brief reprise of Benny’s piano motif from the 1975 hit SOS.
A couple of tracks don’t quite hit the spot. Bumblebee dials up the sentimentality to 11. No Doubt about It is Waterloo-lite. But the choral and orchestral piece Ode To Freedom supplies a suitably stately finale to the year’s most eagerly anticipated comeback.
Whatever side of Abba takes your fancy, there’s something here for you. So, do I like it? I do, I do, I do, I do, I do.
- Abba Voyage opens at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park on May 27, 2022. Tickets were released in greater numbers yesterday. You can book tickets until December 4, 20,22.