Our Take: 4/5 Stars
After 40 years, disco-pop band and darling of the ‘70s, ABBA, returned on Nov. 5 with the release of their final album “Voyage.”
“Voyage” had 118,000 sales in its opening weekend, outselling the rest of the UK Top 40 combined and making it the largest selling album of 2021. The album is projected to top the charts this week.
Rumors started to spread of ABBA’s return in 2018. The four-person band was initially interested in developing digital avatars for a concert resembling their former selves. However as they worked together, they decided to also produce some music as well, going from two songs, then a few, to a whole album. ABBA officially announced their reunion and upcoming album this September, alongside their release of two singles, “I Still Have Faith In You” and “Don’t Shut Me Down.” While both songs were met with critical approval, garnering comparisons to past hits like “Waterloo” and “Dancing Queen,” they adhered to a more mature take on the ABBA sound, which was very indicative of the overall vibe of “Voyage.”
ABBA, a pop juggernaut of the late ‘70s, made a cultural resurgence in 1992 after the release of “ABBA Gold,” a compilation of their hits which remains relevant today. Thus the release of “Voyage” exists in an odd environment: regardless of how good it is, as long as it sounds like ABBA, there will be an audience ready to listen.
Band member Benny Andersson told The New York Times that they are not going to run from their past saying, “What is there to prove? They’ll still play ‘Dancing Queen’ next year.”
Over the course of the 10-song tracklist, fans are presented with an audibly aged version of a band they are used to. With the pop and disco sounds that have always been present in their discography, they stuck to the tried and true formula they invented.
However, with lyrics dealing with themes of the past and parenthood, a maturity in their music is visible. Both Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad now have a limited vocal range, but their natural weary tone adds depth to their vocal performances.
As an entire project, the group provides an entertaining, nostalgia driven album, though there are several songs that raise an eyebrow and would not have passed as a worthy release in the ‘70s.
“Just A Notion” was originally rejected from their album “Voulez-Vous” because of a barren verse, but rather than rewriting, the band redid the instrumental and put back the original vocals for “Voyage.” Even with this update, the song is still lyrically lacking in comparison to “I Have a Dream,” which had replaced “Just A Notion” in 1979.
Two songs in, the listener is greeted with “Little Things,” ABBA’s odd take on a Christmas song. The song skips the winter imagery and seasonal metaphors for a children’s choir and a disturbing verse implying a transactional relationship between parents.
The last song bringing ABBA’s quality control into question is “Bumblebee.” While the use of flute and regard for “Fernando” is appreciated, it is impossible to take seriously. The attempt to make a stand for climate change is worthy of appreciation, however, the naive and subpar lyrics provide no substance, and sacrifice the power of the track.
Standout tracks like “Keep An Eye on Dan,” “No Doubt About It” and “Don’t Shut Me Down” are all well-defined pop tracks with top quality melodies and signature hooks from arguably one of the most disruptive hook-dependent bands.
“Keep An Eye on Dan,” provides the story of a child that has separated parents, through the eyes of the secondary supporter. This unique concept is well-executed in the song, without any sacrifice to the composition of the track. As band member Björn Ulvaeus told Apple Music, “I find it interesting to explore things that happen in relationships that haven’t been explored before. I don’t think that this has.”
Ultimately, the news of ABBA reuniting was exciting, and it is safe to say that they have not only met, but exceeded all expectations with their final album “Voyage.” They have added to their already cemented legacy with an appealing album that will not stand out among their hits, but nonetheless adds to their timeless catalogue.