Right when the world needs it, ABBA returns with Voyage (their first album in 40 years!); released ahead of a run of “revolutionary” 2022 concerts during which virtual avatars of the four iconic Swedes’ ‘70s selves (‘ABBAtars’ – geddit?) will ‘perform’ six shows a week in a custom-built arena at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
The verdict? A thrilling addition to the Swedish pop phenomenon’s already-spectacular discography.
There’s an innocent earnestness to ABBA that’s unmistakable, oh-so-rare and frankly adorable. Perfect diction draws us into each song’s evocative storyline as we gleefully draw comparisons to fave ABBA songs from yonder years, while searching for lyricism that may reflect the previous (or current?) relationship statuses of former couples Agnetha and Björn or Frida and Benny.
I Still Have Faith In You
A statement of intent, of sorts, Voyage’s opener contains everything we’ve ever loved about ABBA. Wistful melodies, Agnetha and Frida’s outstanding unison vocals and deliberate enunciation, sparkling arrangements that just keep on giving (endlessly layered harmonies, stately piano, nostalgic strings, marching-band drum accents, recurring glockenspiel motifs) and soul-searching refrains.
“Do I have it in me?/ I believe it is in there/ For I know I hear a bittersweet song/ In the memories we share…” – after all these years, ABBA have survived and we relish every single millisecond of this song’s exultant closing realisation: “We do have it in us!/ New spirit has arrived/ The joy and the sorrow/ We have a story and it survived…”
When You Danced With Me
This lively l’il number skips down Memory Lane (“I miss the good old times when you danced with me”), recalling ‘One Who Got Away’ escaping village life for the bright city lights and promising to return (but breaking said promise). Jaunty tambourine and this song’s irresistible folkloric hook call for a good old-fashioned do-si-do.
A gentle piano intro ushers in Agnetha and Frida’s casual-but-glorious unison singing once more. A-ha! This one is a family-friendly Christmas carol: “Oh what joy Santa brings/ Thanks, old friend, for packing Christmas stockings full of nice little things.” Then a glockenspiel refrain evokes Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and a children’s choir brings it home. Will Little Things score higher rotation than All I Want For Christmas Is You in festive playlists this year? One thing’s for sure: Voyage is a stocking stuffer shoo-in.
Don’t Shut Me Down
Another irresistible ABBA vignette, with trademark thought-provoking lyricism (“I believe it would be fair to say, ‘You look bewildered’…”), Agnetha takes lead vocals on this one. Celebratory strings and dramatic piano flourishes (think: Waterloo) underscore this tale of an ex-lover requesting a second chance: “I’m not the same this time around/ I’m fired up, don’t shut me down… You asked me not to leave/ Well here I am again…” – why is it so tantalising to hear Agnetha singing these words with the knowledge that one of her exes is in the band? It just is, so please embrace it.
Just A Notion
Dig that boogie-woogie piano! Just A Notion kinda reminds us of 1979’s Does Your Mother Know. We’re upstanding, busting moves to this perfect slice of Scando-disco and strongly suggest you do the same.
I Can Be That Woman
STAHP! Lyrics about a dude asleep on the couch while his dog, Tammy, gazes up at our narrator: “The reproach in her eyes is imagined, but the pain that I feel is real.” Why are my eyes sweating!? “She jumps down and her tail is swishing like a feather right up under your nose/ And then you wake up and you’re bleary-eyed/ I say, ‘I’m sorry, I can see you’ve cried’.” Once again, lyrics such as, “You’re not the man you should have been/ I let you down somehow…” make us ponder the autobiographical nature of this tear-duct-cleansing ballad.
“I know this shouldn’t be a traumatic event but it is…” – ABBA sure know how to lure the listener in with a magnetic opening line, hey? Cheesy, euphoric synth glistens throughout Keep An Eye On Dan (“…Promise me you can/ He gets out of hand if you let him…”), which seems to be about the complexities of co-parenting. When ABBA’s male voices shadow chorus lyrics at the tail end of Keep An Eye On Dan, a father’s pain is given voice. The actual S.O.S. piano melody closes this song out, cheekily referencing the band’s past splendour.
Bumblebee’s intro brings Fernando to mind. And, of course, ABBA are the perfect vehicle for a song about the sad plight of the bumblebee: “Yes, for now I’m in my garden watching clouds sail with the breeze/ Feeling sad for those that never hear the hum of bumblebees.”
Is that banjo? This one’s a bit of a countrified banger. We can almost picture the spectacular satin culottes of ABBA’s heyday swinging as they sidestep in unison. Aaaaaah, those chorus harmonies! “This isn’t where it ends…” – we sure as hell hope not!
Ode To Freedom
As smooth as a Johann Strauss waltz (The Blue Danube, perhaps?), closing track Ode To Freedom glides in as gracefully as a Torvill & Dean Olympic Gold medal-winning ice skating routine. Waaaaaaaah, how is Voyage over already? And why did listening to this album make us tear-up so bloody much? These Septuagenarians have still got it, alright.
Voyage by ABBA is out now, including on JB-exclusive coloured vinyl, black vinyl, JB-exclusive CD, regular CD, and Eco Box Edition via Universal.
Keep up with the latest Australian release dates for music.