Music album review: ABBA – Voyage (Polar Music, 2021)
- I Still Have Faith in You (5:09)
- When You Danced with Me (2:50)
- Little Things (3:08)
- Don’t Shut Me Down (3:56)
- Just a Notion (3:31)
- I Can Be That Woman (4:01)
- Keep an Eye on Dan (4:05)
- Bumblebee (3:57)
- No Doubt About It (2:56)
- Ode to Freedom (3:32)
Forty years after the release of their last studio album, The Visitors, ABBA have returned. Originally they were only meant to be recording a couple of new songs for a holographic concert tour announced a few years ago, but then they decided they enjoyed working together, and why not make a whole new album? Expectations couldn’t be higher. The question is whether the new album is any good or not.
As an ABBA fan for the past 30-odd years I can’t help but approach this with both avid curiosity and trepidation. ABBA was an obsession of mine for a few years, when I was maybe eight or nine until I was maybe 13 or so, so their old albums have a special place in my heart. Can Voyage really measure up and take a seat next to the rest?
I always feel a bit weird getting a new album from any of my favourite artists. Will I like the new songs? I always manage to feel slightly disappointed at first, even if I later come to love an album, and Voyage is no different. It probably doesn’t help that it starts out with the dreary I Still Have Faith In You. I’m not too keen on ballads anyway, and this makes me want to go to sleep, frankly, yet this is what they selected as a first single? Fortunately, it picks up with When You Danced With Me, which is more upbeat and has some Swedish folk music vibes. It sounds as if it could have been a part of Arrival.
Little Things is also a ballad, sounding almost like a lullaby – a bit like Like An Angel Passing Through My Room from The Visitors. The Christmassy lyrics and children’s choir ensure that it will get plenty of radio time in December.
The other single they’ve been playing on the radio is Don’t Shut Me Down, which is a vast improvement over I Still Have Faith In You. It’s catchy, the tune is upbeat. This is classic ABBA! Which, interestingly, is exactly what you should say for Just A Notion. It was meant to have been included on Voulez-Vous but was left out for some reason that even Björn and Benny can’t remember. They’ve used the vocals recorded in 1978 so it sounds a lot more like the ABBA we’re all familiar with. There was a snippet of a rough cut of the song included on a 1994 box set, so I was already familiar with it – it’s fun to hear all of it finally! The instrumentation is new, however, and sounds very much like a Swedish dansband. (“Dance band” … uh, long story. It’s a thing.) Just A Notion reminds me slightly of I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do – probably due to the saxophone in the background.
We kick it down a notch again with I Can Be That Woman. Grab a partner and slow dance, I’ve Been Waiting For You style, except with lyrics more reminiscent of One Of Us. Keep An Eye On Dan is annoyingly catchy. I say annoyingly because I hate the title. The song is dramatic in tone, and musically it’s cool, but the name feels like it was shoved in there because it was an easy rhyme. It feels like beta lyrics, simple lyrics they’ve put on a melody to check it’s viable before changing it – Happy Hawaii, anyone?
If you missed Fernando, meet his eco-friendly Transformer sibling Bumblebee. You’ll know the one when you hear it. No Doubt About It is sort of in the same style as some of the songs on Super Trouper. It’s also incredibly catchy, and is possibly my favourite song on the entire album because it’s arguably the most up-tempo.
Wrapping up the voyage is Ode To Freedom, which is another ballad, but I like it? Possibly because the music is so incredibly reminiscent of a classical piece that I can’t for the life of me say exactly which one it is, but I read it might be Tchaikovsky. It’s nice, though.
The songs are solid, but Björn and Benny have been writing songs together for half a century now so you’d expect nothing less. Admittedly, I haven’t paid much attention to the lyrics, but plenty of formal reviews have. What about the singing? The voices of Agnetha and Anni-Frid have aged – matured, if you prefer – but they’re both in their 70s now, so that they don’t sound exactly like they used to 40 years ago isn’t surprising. It means the vocal difference between isn’t as contrasting as it once was, so at times I’m a little confused as to who’s singing, but they still harmonise beautifully. What I’m more surprised at is how their English seems to have deteriorated. You would have thought they might have improved their language skills with more practice over the decades, but apparently not. It’s an observation, not a criticism.
The total runtime of Voyage is a little over 37 minutes. Will it change your life? No. Is it nice to hear new music from ABBA? Yes, but at the same time it’s one of those things where it’s been such a long time since we heard from them that at this rate they could’ve just not bothered and it wouldn’t have made a difference to any of us. Or they could have put out some more of the previously unreleased songs – they clearly have a number of them.
We still have the old albums to treasure. So while it wasn’t strictly necessary, Voyage is … nice, I guess? Does it match up with the classics? Your mileage may vary here – after all, some might say that not all of the songs on the old albums are worth remembering. (Yes, I know King Kong Song is universally loathed and very silly, but I still kind of like it because it’s different and fun.) Will we be singing these 40 years from now? I honestly can’t say.
There isn’t an objectively bad song on here, but I’m not sure there are any instant classics either – while the radio stations are more than happy to play the new singles (seems like every time we go out in the car we hear one of them), you can’t help but wonder if it’s only because they’re shiny new ABBA songs they get played as much as they are, as opposed to simply being new songs from someone else. But I digress, as usual. Maybe it’s clearer if they feel like they belong or are out of place if you listen to a playlist of all their songs combined? Which might be a consideration. But I could just as easily just skip it and listen to the old favourites.
3 out of 5 reunions.