ABBA Voyage: After 39 years, everyone’s favourite musical Swedes make sweet new music again

(image courtesy official ABBA Voyage Facebook page)

It’s a strange but wonderful thing indeed to find yourself taken back to the emotions and sensibilities of your youth.

It can happen through all kinds of things – smells, old movies or TV shows and classic books but the medium which most quickly and completely transports me back to the past with a vibrancy and immediacy which is breathtaking is music, something which became abundantly and definitively clear this morning between 2.45 a.m. and 3.45 a.m. Sydney time.

That was the magical hour-long window when ABBA, principally Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, unveiled not only the much-rumoured new album, now known to be called Voyage, two new singles, “Don’t Shut Me Down” and “I Still Have Faith in You” (which were announced some years back) but also the ABBA-tars concert show which will take place in a purpose-built stadium in London.

For fans like this blogger who have waited 39 years to see a new album and witness a comeback, it was an emotional hour.

When the first strains of “I Still Have Faith in You” came on, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad’s exquisitely emotive voice rang through, it became clear that the group have lost none of their magic.

Capturing some of the melancholic but hopeful vibe of a song like “Happy New Year”, “I Still Have Faith in You” is a gem of a pop song, proof that you can go back to a musical well and find treasure there, even after almost four decades.

“‘When Benny played the melody, I just knew it had to be about us,’ said Ulvaeus, explaining the song’s origins. ‘It’s about realising that it’s inconceivable to be where we are. No imagination could dream up that, to release an album after 40 years and still be the best of friends, and still be enjoying each other’s company, and have a total loyalty. Who has experienced that? Nobody.'” (Classic Pop Mag)

More upbeat, “Don’t Shut Me Down”, with lead vocals by Agnetha Fältskog, is upbeat, hopeful, happily declarative pop, a classic piece of ABBA pop that sounds very much like the group in their heyday but with a modern, 21st-century sheen to it too.

Sure, Björn and Benny look older – neither Anni-Frid nor Agnetha made an appearance though we were assured they were watching from their homes – and we are not as young as we were either, but in that very precious hour where so much new and wonderful things were announced, it honestly like time stood still and here we were again in the glorious throes of youthful wonderful fandom.

But while it’s been four decades, something ABBA acknowledged rather mischievously in their official statement, they aren’t done with music yet.

“‘It’s been a while since we made music together,’ the band said in a statement. ‘We took a break in the spring of 1982 and now we’ve decided it’s time to end it. They say it’s foolhardy to wait more than 40 years between albums, so we’ve recorded a follow-up to The Visitors.

‘We simply call it Voyage and we’re truly sailing in uncharted waters. With the help of our younger selves, we travel into the future. It’s not easy to explain but then it hasn’t been done before.'” (Classic Pop Mag)

What’s exciting about all this newness swimming in a sea of very much alive nostalgia is that we get to see ABBA in concert, again for those lucky enough to see them on their ’77 and ’79 tours and for the first time for people like this blogger who was too far from a capital city in Australia to get to a concert.

During the live broadcast via YouTube, we were given an insight into how the band have brought their virtual concert selves alive, spending five weeks in Stockholm with motion capture sensors so that you see onstage feels very naturalistic and true to form.

It’s a massively appealing idea, and will definitely have me racing to London as soon as COVID lets us out of its seemingly unending grasp, but it is also, admits the group a little strange, at least for them.

“To tell the truth, the main inspiration to record again comes from our involvement in creating the strangest and most spectacular concert you could ever dream of. We’re going to be able to sit back in an audience and watch our digital selves perform our songs on a stage in a custom-built arena in London next spring. Weird and wonderful!” (Classic Pop Mag)

What was most surprising but shouldn’t be really is how emotional I became watching the announcement, the songs and seeing Benny and Björn speaking candidly with British interviewer Zoe Ball.

I cried through all of “I Still Have Faith in You’ and with my boyfriend sitting next to me, I reflected on how far this country town Baptist pastor’s son has come over the last forty years and how lucky he has been to have ABBA right along with him for the ride, now with all new music and a stage show in the offing and a slew, no doubt, of new, precious memories to come.

Voyage releases 5 November with preorders available now via the official ABBA store, and the two released songs, “I Still Have Faith in You” and “Don’t Shut Me Down” available for download and streaming. The ABBA-tars concert kicks off on 27 May 2022.

For more on the announcement, go to Variety.

A cover and track listing has also been released, confirming that 10 new songs are in the offing, including “Just a Notion”, a previously unreleased track the history of which shows a long and winding track from then until now but also how timeless ABBA’s music is, even after over 40 years …

“‘Just A Notion’ is a track recorded in September 1978. Although progressing beyond the demo stage, Benny and Bjorn went off it pretty quickly, deeming it to be “unmixable” and therefore leaving it unreleased. However a snippet of a rough mix by Michael B. Tretow was released on the box set Thank You for the Music in 1994. A complete version was recorded by cover band Arrival, which occasionally featured original ABBA bass player Rutger Gunnarsson as a special guest, and was included on their 1999 album First Flight. This recording features a full set of lyrics (which are identical to those which ABBA used), unlike the small snippet of the released ABBA version. Carl Magnus Palm has also confirmed that the verse included in the “ABBA Undeleted” medley is in fact the second verse of the song.” (Wikipedia)

(cover image courtesy ABBA Access (c) Universal)
(cover image courtesy ABBA Access (c) Universal)

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