That ABBA have announced a “revolutionary” new concert experience highlights a simple fact: the appetite for their music is only growing stronger. When ‘ABBA Voyage’ launches next May at a purpose-built arena in Stratford, superfans visiting London will be spoiled for choice. In theory, you could go see Mamma Mia! in the West End, then unleash your inner dancing queen at The O2’s immersive Mamma Mia! The Party, before making it three nights in a row at ‘ABBA Voyage’, where the band members will “perform” a full concert as digital ‘ABBAtars’. Frankly, those fans had better start saving straight away.
Along with the digital concert reveal, ABBA have announced their first album in 40 years, also called ‘Voyage’, and dropped two new tracks to whet our appetite. But because the band’s classic hits remain so embedded in the collective psyche – even Pierce Brosnan’s tuneless mewing couldn’t ruin ‘SOS’ – releasing new music feels like a risk. Thankfully, songwriting band members Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson have made no attempt to follow contemporary pop trends.
“We’re not competing with Drake and all these other guys,” Andersson said self-deprecatingly at the reunion press conference. “We can’t, because I don’t understand the ingredients in the songs that work today, so it’s impossible to emulate. I don’t mind Drake, I just don’t know what modern pop artists are doing.”
So, what we get is music that sounds instantly and comfortingly like ABBA. ‘I Still Have Faith in You’ is a slow-building ballad that essentially sets the scene for the group’s emotional reunion. “For I know I hear a bittersweet song, in the memories we share,” Agnetha Fältskog sings wistfully. It’s a little bit on-the-nose, a little bit cheesy and ultimately quite irresistible: much like their golden oldie ‘Thank You for the Music’.
‘Don’t Shut Me Down’ is more infectious, partly because it kicks into gear at a purposeful midtempo, and partly because the lyrics seem to document a fraught encounter between ex-partners. “I’m not the one you knew, I’m now and then combined, and I’m asking you to have an open mind,” Faltskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad implore on the chorus. Even if you didn’t know that ABBA’s lineup comprises two former married couples, it would be filled with intrigue.
Sure, their voices are a little deeper than before, but that only adds to the music’s poignancy. Maybe the album will also contain a massive disco banger like ‘Voulez Vous’, but for now these songs feel like a classy and heartwarming comeback. My my, why would you even try to resist them?