Friday, November 05, 2021

The Return of ABBA

I dare say I was one of many Australian school-aged kids who for Christmas 1976 received as a present ABBA’s album Arrival.

In my case, it was a gift from my paternal grandparents, Nanna and Pop Smith, who also gifted my family that year with a pair of bean bags! (There’s even a family photo of Nanna and I sitting in them, with ABBA's Arrival on display nearby.) This was the time when ABBA was at the height of their phenomenal international success. And although I was never a huge fan of the group, I did (and still do) appreciated and enjoyed a number of the tracks on Arrival, including “Dancing Queen” and “Knowing Me, Knowing You.”

I mention all of this because four decades since their last album (1981’s The Visitors), the Swedish pop legends who comprise ABBA are back, in what one critic declares “may be the biggest event in pop music so far this century.” . . . So, yeah, I’ll be paying a visit to the Electric Fetus record store tomorrow!

In the meantime, I’ve compiled the following highlights from five reviews of Voyage, the new album from Agnetha Fältskog, Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Anni-Frid “Frida” Lyngstad – collectively known as ABBA. Enjoy!


Returning with their first new album in 40 years, the Swedish pop titans attempt the seemingly impossible: balancing the lure of nostalgia with the pull of the present day. Amazingly, they pull it off.

. . . Voyage is a mixture of songs, old and (mostly) new, that have all the glam boogie, scandi-disco bounce, and epic pop construction of the band’s revered catalog, with some tentative nods to the passing of time. They may have kept the music on Voyage “absolutely trend-blind” to modern pop production, but Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad’s vocals have a slightly world-weary, aged tone to them, their vocal range a touch lower than in their pomp, while the album’s lyrics frequently speak of old times, faithful friends, and the demands of parenthood.

It feels almost rude to ask for anything more. Voyage is as richly harmonic, smartly constructed, and satisfying as you might expect of Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, two of the most talented songwriters in the history of pop music. “Keep an Eye on Dan,” “No Doubt About It,” and “Don’t Shut Me Down” are home to some of the best pop melodies of the year – vaguely unpredictable yet glaringly obvious once heard. They’re also fantastically arranged, with hooks piled on top of hooks, gently arranged on a bed of unusual musical choices, like the suggestion of reggae on “Don’t Shut Me Down” or the gnarled-around-the-edges electronics and irregular cowbell on “Keep an Eye on Dan.” The musical winks to the band’s past are a nice touch, too: “Keep an Eye on Dan” closes with the same piano melody that opens “S.O.S.,” while the soaring flute opening of “Bumblebee” is surely a nod to “Fernando.”

But, as Benny and Björn’s very successful if never entirely satisfying post-ABBA musical Chess demonstrated, without the vocals of Agnetha and Anni-Frid – perhaps pop music’s most durable lead vocal combination – ABBA are just BB. Their voices are what make the group, and they’re still capable – both solo and in duet – of expressing melancholy and ecstasy within the same breath. On “I Still Have Faith in You” when Anni-Frid declares her enduring faith after all these years, as if through gritted teeth, you can feel the maculate defiance, her voice strong but still haunted by the passing of time. And Agnetha’s delivery of “Don’t Shut Me Down”’s opening lines – “A while ago, I heard the sound of children’s laughter/Now it's quiet, so I guess they left the park” – is nothing short of devastating.

ABBA understand, perhaps better than any other band, the epic importance of pop music against the humdrum rumble of everyday life. Pop matters to ABBA because people and feelings matter.

Ben Cardew
Excerpted from “ABBA – Voyage: A Review
November 5, 2021

So here we are with ABBA’s ninth and final album, Voyage, four decades to the month since the release of The Visitors. That album bore the hit, “One of Us,” a wrenching ballad about a relationship in shambles, and it reflected on the group as well. Recall that, in a Fleetwood Mac-esque twist, Ulvaeus and Fältskog were married (they divorced in 1979, during “The Winner Takes it All” period), while also-married couple Andersson and Lyngstad split in 1981.

But reunions are a lucrative business, and even though ABBA, whose members are in their early-to-mid-70s, won’t attempt a farewell tour, the quartet is holding a “hologram show” [entitled ABBA Voyage] in London in May with plans for a virtual tour.

Appetite for the group is still insatiable – they’ve sold nearly 400 million albums worldwide and their songs stream at a rate of 16 million per week – so why not give the people what they want?

. . . The vocals of Fältskog and Lyngstad still shimmer as if it’s 1976 and The Stockholm Concert Orchestra is prominent on most songs, which means much swooping and plushness.

Melissa Ruggieri
Excerpted from “ABBA’s New (and Final) Album
Is Finally Here: Is Voyage Any Good?

USA Today
November 5, 2021

Voyage came about after the four band members reconvened in 2018 to record two new songs for a planned TV special. This was later scrapped in favour of next year’s innovative ABBA Voyage residency, which will see a digital version of the band performing alongside live musicians at a purpose-built east London venue. Evidently, somewhere along the way, songwriter-producers Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson and lead singers Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad reignited their old creative spark long enough for two new songs to grow into this 10-track album.

The music it contains is less surprising than the comeback itself, though. ABBA have made no attempt to chase contemporary trends here – “I don’t mind Drake, I just don’t know what modern pop artists are doing,” Andersson said tellingly at September’s reunion press conference. Instead, they have made an album that sounds reassuringly like ABBA, albeit a more sedate ABBA than you probably remember. The disco-tinged single “Don’t Shut Me Down” and a galloping banger called “No Doubt About It” take the album into reasonably upbeat territory, but nothing here will fill dance floors like “Voulez Vous” or “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight).”

Nick Levine
Excerpted from “ABBA – Voyage Review:
A Pop Nostalgia Trip That’s Worth Taking

November 5, 2021

Nearly 40 years ago, ABBA were in the studio for one last time, to cut a tragic ballad called “The Day Before You Came.” They knew this was goodbye; both couples in the group had finalized their divorces. Agnetha Fältskog recited a bleak tale of total emotional isolation, words scripted by her ex-husband, doing her vocals in a darkened studio with all the lights out. It was the last thing they ever recorded. A splendidly melodramatic finale for this most melodramatic of pop groups. And that – as far as the world knew – was that for ABBA. Until now.

So how the hell did this happen? The Swedish super troupers ride again with Voyage, and there’s never been a comeback story like this one: all four original members of a great pop band, reuniting after 40 years apart, with all their powers intact. This album would be a one-of-a-kind historic event even if the songs blew – but it’s vintage ABBA, on par with their classic 1970s run. It evokes the days when the Norse gods ruled the radio, combining two of the Seventies’ hottest trends: heartbreak and sequin-studded pantsuits.

For Bjorn, Benny, Anna-Frid and Agnetha, their last album was the 1981 gem The Visitors, a frosty electro concept album of synth-pop paranoia and mid-life despair. Their tunes were as cheery and bouncy on the surface as prime Elton John, making them the world’s best-selling act, but loaded with Leonard Cohen levels of angst. Who else would put a song called “Disillusion” on their first album? But since then, the ABBA legacy has just kept booming. Each generation falls in love with their hits all over again. They helped invent goth – you can’t imagine Joy Division or The Cure or Berlin-era Bowie without “S.O.S.” They taught Kurt Cobain how to write hooks.

. . . Voyage piles on the tragic drama – it’s a whole album of The Winner Takes it All,” without any “Mamma Mia” or “Take a Chance On Me.” They were always in love with adult gloom, going back to the divorced-mom power chords of “Knowing Me, Knowing You” or “Hey Hey Helen.” As Pete Townshend told Rolling Stone in 1982, when he shocked the world by coming out as an ABBA fan, “ABBA was one of the first big international bands to actually deal with sort of middle-aged problems in their songwriting.” And that was in their younger days. Now that they’re all past 70, they haven’t exactly lost their appetite for emotional-crisis soundtracks.

As always, Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson write the songs, but now they leave the singing to the ladies, Faltskog and Anna-Frid Lyngstad. They put Voyage together while plotting their 2022 “virtual” live residency in London. These concerts won’t have mere holograms – instead, they’ve got what Benny and Bjorn call “Abba-tars.”

. . . [I]ndeed, it’s a surprise to have these Swedes back in the game. But it’s a bigger, sweeter surprise that they returned so full of musical vitality. All these years after “Waterloo,” ABBA still refuse to surrender.

Rob Sheffield
Excerpted from “The First New ABBA Album
in 40 Years Was Worth the Wait

Rolling Stone
November 4, 2021

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.

Ian Wade
Excerpted from “ABBA: Voyage – New Album Review
Classic Pop
November 5, 2021

UPDATES: ABBA Are Outselling Rest of UK Top 40 Combined with Voyage – Charlotte Krol (NME, November 8, 2021).
ABBA’s Frida On Voyage, Becoming Avatars, and Not Watching Eurovision – Paul Sexton (, November 11, 2021).
ABBA's Frida Gives Rare Interview on Voyage and If There Could Be More New Music: “Never Say Never” – George Griffiths (, November 11, 2021).
Perfect 10: Why ABBA’s Voyage is 2021’s Album of the Year – Steve Pafford (, December 5, 2021).

May 2022 Updates: Abba Voyage Review: Jaw-dropping Avatar Act That’s Destined to Be Copied – Alexis Petridis (The Guardian, May 26, 2022).
ABBA’s ‘Voyage’ CGI Extravaganza Is Everything It’s Cracked Up to Be, and More – Mark Sutherland (Variety, May 27, 2022).
ABBA Tell Us What the Future Holds After Their “Surreal” and “Fabulous” Digital Concert Tour – Erica Campbell (NME, May 26, 2022).

Previously featured musicians at The Wild Reed:
Dusty Springfield | David Bowie | Kate Bush | Maxwell | Buffy Sainte-Marie | Prince | Frank Ocean | Maria Callas | Loreena McKennitt | Rosanne Cash | Petula Clark | Wendy Matthews | Darren Hayes | Jenny Morris | Gil Scott-Heron | Shirley Bassey | Rufus Wainwright | Kiki Dee | Suede | Marianne Faithfull | Dionne Warwick | Seal | Sam Sparro | Wanda Jackson | Engelbert Humperdinck | Pink Floyd | Carl Anderson | The Church | Enrique Iglesias | Yvonne Elliman | Lenny Kravitz | Helen Reddy | Stephen Gately | Judith Durham | Nat King Cole | Emmylou Harris | Bobbie Gentry | Russell Elliot | BØRNS | Hozier | Enigma | Moby (featuring the Banks Brothers) | Cat Stevens | Chrissy Amphlett | Jon Stevens | Nada Surf | Tom Goss (featuring Matt Alber) | Autoheart | Scissor Sisters | Mavis Staples | Claude Chalhoub | Cass Elliot | Duffy | The Cruel Sea | Wall of Voodoo | Loretta Lynn and Jack White | Foo Fighters | 1927 | Kate Ceberano | Tee Set | Joan Baez | Wet, Wet, Wet | Stephen “Tin Tin” Duffy | Fleetwood Mac | Jane Clifton | Australian Crawl | Pet Shop Boys | Marty Rhone | Josef Salvat | Kiki Dee and Carmelo Luggeri | Aquilo | The Breeders | Tony Enos | Tupac Shakur | Nakhane Touré | Al Green | Donald Glover/Childish Gambino | Josh Garrels | Stromae | Damiyr Shuford | Vaudou Game | Yotha Yindi and The Treaty Project | Lil Nas X | Daby Touré | Sheku Kanneh-Mason | Susan Boyle | D’Angelo | Little Richard | Black Pumas | Mbemba Diebaté | Judie Tzuke | Rahsaan Patterson | Black | Ash Dargan

Opening image: Baillie Walsh.

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