ABBA Voyage – New album review
By Ian Wade | November 5, 2021
Do they have it in them…? Well, that was the main concern when ABBA announced they’d reconvened and were back in the studio recording songs that eventually became an entire album – their first all-new set for 40 years. What would it entail? What should we expect?
Led by the singles I Still Have Faith In You and Don’t Shut Me Down – both sides of the ABBA coin if you will; one a majestic elegant show-stopper, the other a bit of a slinky minx – Voyage seems to capture every element of the group’s canon. There are nods to their past throughout – a motif from S.O.S. at the end of Keep An Eye On Dan and the panpipes of Fernando on Bumblebee. One could easily play ‘spot the reference’ throughout.
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The cheery Irish jig of When You Danced With Me puts its case across with mentions of Kilkenny and use of uilleann pipes, and can be filed alongside Ed Sheeran’s Galway Girl as one of those songs that knows it has an audience.
Keen-eared fans will know of Just A Notion which appeared as an earlier version as part of the ABBA Undeleted medley off the Thank You For The Music box set in the mid-90s, but here keeps the original vocal but rejigs the music.
Little Things, is basically the idealised Christmas encapsulated in three-and-a-half minutes. It’s tingly, twinkly, a little twee and delightful in a way that evokes a Werther’s Original advert, and ready to replace Happy New Year on various Christmas compilations. There’s a children’s choir as well as mentions of Santa and stockings. It’s just the right side of syrupy, which is handy as you’re likely to hear it every December from now on.
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Playing to their strengths
No Doubt About It, I Can Be That Woman and Keep An Eye On Dan all seem to centre around the nuances of relationship strife that ABBA have made a masterclass of. The opening line of I Can Be That Woman, “You’re asleep on the couch with Tammy” sounds like it might be a little ominous, until you realise Tammy’s a dog when “she jumps down and her tail is swishing”, although there’s nothing merry about it from there on in, documenting the minor grievances between an older couple who may or may not be taking chunks out of each other.
You could imagine Dolly Parton doing it and turning it into a big old blubfest; Keep An Eye On Dan burbles away electronically under a stressful tale of shared parenting, pertaining to an unresolvable dispute.
The rocking No Doubt About It, which sounds like a live show opener of yore, again casts the female as the one in the wrong, but a line like “He says with forbearance in his eyes: Most couples we know are able to compromise” is Peak Ulvaeus/Andersson, a combination of language far and away from pop’s usual lingua franca, and the telling(?) “This isn’t where it ends” would be a dreadful tease had they not gone on record to say that this is the last of ABBA.
The last track, Ode To Freedom, has a significant nod to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake waltz, but different enough so that he wouldn’t be able to sue (not that he’s likely to, having been dead nearly 130 years).
Over a glacial, closing credits-esque glide, there is the cautious optimism for the future – “I wish someone would write an Ode To Freedom that we all could sing” – hoping for a time where we could all one day chorus in agreement. It’s a suitable end of the Voyage, the moment where ABBA depart the stage and the album.
Above: ABBA in the studio recording Voyage (Credit: Ludvig Andersson)
“Trend blind” songwriting
Benny and Bjorn have mentioned in recent interviews that they recorded this album “trend blind” – ignoring any musical development in the past four decades. There are no attempts to sound current, and no incongruous guest spots from BTS, Doja Cat or any other flavour-of-the-month doing numbers on social media.
Fact is, ABBA have always been in their own lane, impervious to any major desperate leap to sound current, bar the occasional nod to disco, perhaps, but ultimately by being their own thing. It is to their credit that their strengths lay in being oblivious to outside forces – it was up to the rest of the world to catch up with them. And they did.
That is why a generation of fans who’ve grown up with their music, and lived and loved and lost with ABBA as their soundtrack, have now embraced their return with such elation and joy. It’s enduring proof that pop music is important, and always will be.
Reviewing new songs from an act whose music has been a constant over several generations is a hard ask. To expect an instant wow from something that’s been absent from your life after all this time, and has aged as you have, will require a little time to sink in. If you love ABBA, you will undoubtedly love Voyage regardless, but if you’re on the fence, then you’re likely to remain there. Ian Wade
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Read more: ABBA – Album By Album
Classic Pop Celebrates ABBA – A New Voyage is now on sale!
We have updated our ABBA special ahead of the latest exciting chapter in the group’s story. As they prepare to launch their new album and 2022 London residency, we cover the reunion itself and go backstage with the producers of ABBA Voyage – their state-of-the-art show that features digital avatars of the fourpiece alongside a 10-piece live band – to find out how the magic happens.
In this 132-page special, we also explore the group’s history, from their early days in Sweden and their breakthrough as winners of the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest through to their years as one of the world’s best-selling acts in the 1970s. Our expert writers put the ABBA catalogue under the microscope to come up with fresh insights into their recorded work, plus we take a look at their touring years across the globe and how the band’s brand has grown to taking over theatreland and Hollywood with the record-breaking success story of Mamma Mia! The Musical’s stage and movie incarnations.
On top of that, we take a glimpse behind the doors of the ABBA museum, serve up our pick of the band’s 40 best tracks, and meet some of the best ABBA tribute bands currently on the circuit – plus we speak to Erasure’s Andy Bell who talks about how the duo’s chart-topping ABBA-esque EP became a landmark moment in the careers of both bands.
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