The Great Swedish Comeback: ABBA’s Voyage

ABBA's Voyage album cover.

ABBA:

Voyage

Genre: Pop

Sound: Piano glissandos kick off brassy and electric synth grooves that quiet into sentimental strings.
If you like: Elton John, Boney M., Dua Lipa
Why you should listen: The legendary Swedish band’s first album in 40 years proves they can still get you dancing with feisty rhythms, but some ventures into sentimental folk territory acknowledge they’re slowing down. All things considered—it’s an ABBA comeback. What more could you want?
Best track: Don’t Shut Me Down

For the first time in 40 years, ABBA has officially reunited.

This time, they’ve left the disco.

Instead of the boisterous dance floor hits for which they were renowned in their heyday, with their comeback album Voyage, out Nov. 5, Agnetha Fältskog, Frida Lyngstad, Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson have quilted a patchwork of sonics geared toward the domestic. There’s a Christmas song with a children’s choir, an ode to a bumblebee and a track sure to please sea shanty fans.

Stay with me here.

Black and white photo of Agnetha Fältskog and Frida Lyngstad of ABBA sitting inside the recording studio.

Photo by Ludvig Andersson.

Though on the surface it may sound random, it’s still delightfully ABBA. Besides the fact that Frida and Agnetha don’t belt it out like they used to à la Winner Takes It All or Waterloo, their voices are still richly hued and clear, the signs of age inaudible. Though they might not be Voulez-Vous-ing it on the dance floor well into their 70s, it feels pretty damn good to see the Swedish superstars back in action.

The opening note of Voyage is, unsurprisingly, a swelling synth. It’s the intro to I Still Have Faith In You, a dramatic, musical theatre-vibe track in which they question whether they have a comeback in them. When a zinging electric guitar tears in at the climax, they triumphantly declare, “We do have it in us! New spirit has arrived!” In a life-imitates-art-imitates-life moment, it sounds as if it were written to be the final scene in Mamma Mia — the smash hit musical based on ABBA’s discography — the whole cast taking the stage holding hands as they sing in chorus.

Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson of ABBA leaning over the sound mixing board in their recording studio.

Photo by Ludvig Andersson.

With the question of their ability to handle a comeback laid to rest, the scene is set. They jump right into sonic experimentation with When You Danced With Me, a joyous, Celtic folk-esque song that requires a double take to confirm it’s not actually produced by Great Big Sea. Somehow, it works.

Next, the Christmas track just kind of appears. It’s gentle and sweet …but also kind of random? ‘Tis the season, I suppose.

As we plunge into the heart of the album, ABBA dives right into the thorny territory of lovers’ quarrels. It’s a subject they’ve always done well: Knowing Me, Knowing You, One Of Us, Mamma Mia. Through their 10 years as a quartet, the members were coupled up, married and all divorced by 1981. Counterintuitively, the gloomiest lyrics on the album are framed by some of the grooviest, most ABBA-like arrangements.

Agnetha Fältskog and Frida Lyngstad of ABBA sitting together in the recording studio.

Photo by Ludvig Andersson.

After this dark disco comes the realization that though the foursome is still more than capable of a comeback, time hasn’t stood still. They’re not bopping around in spandex on glittering stages anymore. They’re older now, and content to enjoy the simple things in life. Bumblebee, a song quite literally about watching a bumblebee, confirms this: “Yes for now, I’m in my garden, watching clouds sail with the breeze / Feeling carefree as I listen to the hum of bumblebees.”

If nothing else, ABBA has always been honest and true to themselves. When times were good, they sang about it. When times were bad — even going through personal breakups with each other — they sang about it. Now, with Voyage, they’re wisely not trying to emulate their younger selves. Instead, they’re embracing who they’ve become, with the same style and spirit that made them the timeless Europop icons they are.

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