- 05 Nov 21
Swedish pop icons return with first album in nearly 40 years
If you've forgotten how long it's been since ABBA last released an album, bear in mind that The Visitors, their previous LP, was one of the very first albums in history to be pressed as a CD. Now, 40 years and plenty of revolutions in the music industry later, the pop titans are back.
Sceptics will say that Voyage was designed to drive sales for their digital ABBA Voyage experience – which in itself is either a groundbreaking new concept for the future of live music, or technology gone too far, depending on how you look at it.
But no matter what side of the fence you're on, there's no denying the sudden emotional impact of those opening lines of 'I Still Have Faith In You', Voyage's first track. In place of the effortless lightness of Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad's previous hits, are voices deepened and shaped by age – with a newfound warmth that adds a powerful resonance to the sound.
From the opening, Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson have included plenty of musical references to their own work, crafting a sound that embraces the comforting nostalgia fans – and ABBA Voyage spectators – are likely expecting. But as the sci-fi artwork suggests, there's also an effort to inject a space-age modernity into the music. For instance, 'When You Danced With Me' – which is set at a village fair in Kilkenny, bizarrely – is probably what Irish folk music will sound like when performed on an intergalactic cruise ship for space tourists in 100 years time.
At other moments, Voyage feels like a throwback to some of the more eccentric elements of the '70s, with 'Keep An Eye On Dan', a tale of a child caught up in his parents' divorce, embracing the decade's penchant for oddly specific storytelling in pop songs.
'Just A Notion', arriving near the album's halfway point, is a reminder of the group's talents at their height, featuring vocals recorded in 1978 – but would have probably worked better as a bonus track, because soon, in a jarring shift, we're catapulted back to the present day, with the 'I Can Be That Woman'. Featuring nods to Tammy Wynette in the lyrics, it's a country track grounded in the kind of perspective that can only be gained by age, exploring the regrets of addiction.
If the initial success of a Swedish pop group on the world stage, selling 400 million albums globally, was improbable, then no one could have predicted this latest chapter – a group of 70-somethings reconnecting not only with their original audience, but with a new generation of young people. It's a connection that's partly owing to the colossal influence of Mamma Mia, but more so to the undeniable pull of their music. While Voyage doesn't quite rival the hits of ABBA's past, there's no doubt that, after 40 years, the Swedish icons' unique brand of unapologetic pop is still as strangely captivating as ever.
Stream Voyage below: