Songs, songs and more ABBA songs: Voyage and before … Dance (While the Music Still Goes On) & While You Danced With Me + more

(image via Voyage,com)

The release of ABBA’s Voyage album late last year, after a 39-year drought of new full-length releases from the much-loved iconic Swedish pop group – we did get “I Am the City” in the early Nineties on More ABBA Gold and a scattering of part releases in a medley on 1994’s Thank You For the Music package but that was about it – was the stuff of which dreams are made of and of which hopes are fulfilled.

Until the announcement of its existence in early September last year, and the release of the first two evocative songs, “I Still Have Faith in You” and “Don’t Shut Me Down” (first announced as new ABBA songs way back in 2018), Voyage seem like a unicorn, a phoenix, the musical stuff of myth and legend and an idea too good to be true, especially if you were a longstanding fan of decades standing such as yours truly.

But release it did, and with it 10 songs – 9 very very new and one a remixed redux from the early ’80s that came with a shiny new 21st century arrangement (“Just a Notion”) – which met an ache we knew we had as fans but one that turned out to be bigger and deeper than even we realised.

Thankfully all of the songs were more than up to the task, and so, since they can stand proudly next to their 40-year-plus equivalents, it seemed that it might be fun to grab an old song and a new one and see how pronounced the links, musically, lyrically, or even perhaps both.

It’s not a desperately serious exercise, and no doubt fans out there will disagree with the pairings but it seems like a great way to see how strong ABBA’s musical energy remains and how lucky we are to have ten new songs to go with a back colleague so illustrious it is the envy of many other bands.

“Dance (While the Music Still Goes On”) / “While You Danced With Me”

Quite apart from the obvious title link between the two songs, which encourages us to get on up from our seats and dance – a constant theme for the band in songs as diverse as “Nina Pretty Ballerina”, “Dancing Queen” and “On and On and On” to name a few – what binds these two songs together is the end of a relationship and its possible rebirth many years later. In “Dance (While The Music Still Goes On)”, released on 1974’s Waterloo album, love has run its course, something acknowledged by both parties but even so, it’s hard to say goodbye with the man entreating his almost-lost love to “Baby, give me one more / Dance while the music still goes on”. It won’t stop the inevitable coming to pass but it will forestall it and that is enough for now, although it isn’t and can really never be. Fast forward to 2021 and two people with what appears to be a romantic past find themselves back in their hometowns; the woman has never left, content with her rural upbringing but the man is fresh back from the city and while he talks a big urban game, the woman suspects he may not be so divorced from his country roots after all. This is a twinning reliant on lyrical sensibilities with the music in the former, melancholically sad while the latter is awash in the joyously riotous, happy abandon of the Celtic jig.

“One of Us” / “Don’t Shut Me Down”

As before and afters go, this bringing together of two ABBA songs is hard to beat. Released in 1981 as part of what was then ABBA’a final album, the appealingly, atmospherically bleak The Visitors – though of course that didn’t become a fact until some years later – “One of Us” is romantic lament, and yes, hope, writ wholly large. Until “Dance …”, there is no sense of putting off what has come to be; the worst has happened, and the woman who dealt it the final blow, has come to admit her mistake and ask for another chance. It is far from a foregone conclusion that she will be let back, no matter her profound regret at ending things (“Sorry for herself, feeling stupid, feeling small / Wishing she had never left at all”) but she is hopeful their great love might live again. “Don’t Shut Me Down” echoes much the same sentiment but in this case, you get the sense that a great deal more time has passed between things ending and hopefully, though again there is nothing assured here, starting again. Due to the time elapsed, the woman comes back to make her case with a great deal of wisdom and perspective bolstering her case, reflected in the musical charge of the song which meets the gorgeousness moroseness of “One of Us” with a surging sense that maybe romance is possible again.

“Soldiers” / “Ode to Freedom”

Fighting other peoples’ battles is often the lot of people who have little to gain from conflict being waged. Reflecting this truth and clearly critiquing militaristic sensibilities which rarely serve anyone well, initial sabre rattling machinations to the contrary, “Soldiers” from The Visitors is a song that strips away all thoughts of glory and bravery, asking everyone to consider what is really happening to soldiers in the theatre of war. We might think their songs and their marching and their shouts of glory are the whole truth but they are not, mere words and notes that find an echo in “Ode to Freedom”, the soaringly beautiful track that finishes off Voyage with a damning lyricism wrap up in a piece of music so breathtakingly evocative that you can can feel your heart thudding in your chest. In this song, which is described in my review as a “stirringly thoughtful piece, [which] comes complete with a meditation on the nature of “odes to freedom” which sound inspiring on paper but often don’t amount to much”, pretensions to noble ideas as dismissed with a desire for honest and useful truth coming to the fore, very much mirroring the lyrical intent of “Soldiers” 40 years earlier.

“The Name of the Game” / “I Still Have Faith in You”

One of my favourite ABBA songs, ever since it released as the lead single for ABBA The Album in 1977, “The Name of the Game” is all low-level excitement and barely-concealed longing as the nascent stirrings of romance, which felt like an impossible ask, appear to be bearing promising fruit. It’s not a done deal yet but oh the singer – in this case both singers, Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad – wishes it could be, asking her love if what is happening to them matters and if he feels the same. Fast forward quite some years later, and this would-be couple are most certainly an item, discovering again and again that being in a relationship means all kinds of slip-ups and mistakes but also all kinds of unconditional love and wondrous support, which you can’t help but feel is what the woman in “The Name of the Game” wanted all again. The contemplatively stirring tones of “I Still Have Faith in You” suggests that she has made her peace with the imperfections of her relationship and that for all the recognition of her fallibility as one half of a couple, that they have a lot of life left in their union yet (“Through all these years that faith lives on / Somehow”), just as she longed for when it all began.

“Head Over Heels” / No Doubt About It”

It’s the sheer exuberance of these two tracks that really makes them a thrillingly buoyant pairing. “Head Over Heels”, again from The Visitors, is just a joy, the story of one full speed ahead woman who, “with no trace of hesitation” races through life at a giddy rate of knots, daring everyone, including her beloved, who’s “constantly tired” to keep up. The vivacious upbeat nature of “No Doubt About It”, my personal Voyage favourite and likely new single, feels like this relationship a few decades on where the woman in question has become more self aware of who she is and how she makes mistakes while remaining incredibly appreciative of her partner who has clearly stuck by her, come what may. The songs are alike in lyrical intent, style and heady musical sound, and feel the two perfect ends of a relationship that may not be perfect (which of them are?) but which is alive, rich and gorgeously, wonderfully flawed and still full of so much promise and hope.

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