Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published November 9th 2021
A new ABBA album is cause for celebration
If you had asked 20 year old me which band would be least likely to ever reunite, then I would have put ABBA somewhere near the top of that list. Divorce, re-marriage, retirement, working with Tim Rice – the members had gone their separate ways and had left us with a collection of some of the finest pop music ever recorded.
Yes, I mean that. I have enjoyed ABBA since I was a child. They were one of the very few modern bands my parents listened to and we grew up hearing ABBA in the house a lot. And they were on the radio a fair bit, too. I remember hearing 'The Winner Takes It All' when I was nearing the end of primary schooling and finding it rather bittersweet even back then.
So, imagine my surprise when it was announced that their first album of new work since 1981 – 40 years ago! – was going to come out!
Thus we have Voyage by ABBA (2021)
Okay, now this is late. Sorry, but I didn't get it until five days after its release. When it became available for pre-order I went online. I was there four hours after pre-orders went live. By then, every single deluxe edition, special edition, every other edition had sold out in Australia and overseas orders were not being processed for this country. Four hours! This is one of the most anticipated albums I can remember ever. So, I had to settle for the regular edition of the CD, and order it from interstate, hence its lateness reaching me.
Yes, people were hanging out for this. It's like knowing ABBA can still release new music is something the world needs right now. From the start of their world domination at Eurovision through to The Visitors, they took over the world. ABBA-mania in Australia was absolutely insane (and apparently Australia was one of the first Western countries to fall in love with them), and it grew from there. The ABBA Gold collections are in nearly every household that still has physical musical media that I know of. And now we have new music.
So, why were ABBA so successful? A part of it, of course, was their look: two couples, fronted by two beautiful women, with glorious voices. But a big part was that their music was not the standard pop. It was more complex, it was different, there was a real sense of musicality about it.
This new album has a lot to live up to.
Okay, before I look at if it works, two things – that song-writing is still immaculate and stands head and shoulders above so much modern pop it is insane, and the voices are still magnificent, but their accents have returned, like in their early days. I know of at least one person who said that turned them off. I don't care personally, but I guess that's a caveat.
Okay, I'm reviewing it, so you know I like it. But how much did I like it?
Let's go through track by track and see.
'I Still Have Faith In You' One of the singles from the album and one of those songs that starts slow and builds and builds to a glorious crescendo. Right from the word go, this album just grabs you and demands you listen. But this song is beautiful and already you know ABBA have gone into this giving it their all. They have a legacy to live up to, and they are going to give it their best.
This video has some of the best de-aging I have seen. Stunning.
'When You Danced With Me' With a Celtic feel to it, this song goes into up-tempo territory and gets the feet tapping. Even after listening to the album four times I still found myself nodding my head as it played. The voices of Anni-frid and Agnetha just complement each other so well. So good.
'Little Things' A ballad, with a children's chorus, and a little twee, if I'm being honest. This was the sort of thing ABBA did occasionally back in the day and it's okay. Certainly not bad, but I didn't find it inspiring.
'Don't Shut Me Down' We start slow, then speed up for one of those mid-tempo songs ABBA always did so well, and this one fits into that mould. The voices are clear, not dominated by music (or computer effects), and the chorus is a song I can imagine dancing to back in my Blue Light Disco days. Another highlight of the album.
'Just A Notion' Another pop tune, up-tempo and filled with fun, harkening back to the 1960s girl groups with guitar and lots of piano. Another strong track here.
'I Can Be That Woman' Starting by being about a cat before going into a declaration of love, this has some interesting lyrics. And some of the lyrics are more adult than we are used to hearing from them, making this feel like a very honest song. A slower song and yet another good one.
'Keep An Eye On Dan' This is one of the few songs with some modern production sounds, but the lyrics! A woman is dropping her son Dan off at her ex's place for a stay and she doesn't know if she's doing the right thing. I'm sorry, when did we get these very adult themes in our pop songs? There is something almost angry about it. This is an incredible track.
'Bumblebee' This song is okay. It's fine and not a bad one by any stretch of the imagination, but I think it pales a little in comparison to many of the other songs in this collection. Still, it is not a song I have skipped listening to this CD over and over.
'No Doubt About It' When ABBA do pop-rock, they do it surprisingly well, and this is a fine example of that. There is almost an 80s sound to the track, and the vocal harmonies of the ladies in the chorus works so well. Yet another great track.
'Ode To Freedom' This is a sad and slightly depressing track about there being no real odes to freedom, a slower piece, but a strong way to finish the album – with those vocal harmonies front and centre.
10 songs, less than 40 minutes. 1 song that was a bit meh, one that was okay, eight that were fantastic, with four that were incredible. What makes this album stand out from so many pop albums I've heard lately is the joy in it. It's there in the music, and they sound like they are really enjoying what they are doing in the studio. And the music is not produced to within an inch of its life. You can hear the piano, the guitar and, most importantly, those voices.
This is one of the best pop albums I have heard in years. I think we have a strong contender for my favourite album of 2021. I wanted more. So, so very good.