To say I was excited would be an understatement. To say that I was nervous is equally so. This is a new album by ABBA of course – and comes off the back of Benny and Bjorn who have been flying the ABBA flag high in recent years with the release of ‘that’ film and ‘that’ musical ensuring the ABBA name kept fresh and relevant.
ABBA has always been multi-generational and despite the initial simplistic melodies you under-estimate the complexities at your own peril as numerous cover bands and Karaoke fans have found out. Their music is deceptive – it is not easy and there are layers upon layers that make up the easy listening that defined pop music in their era.
‘Waterloo’ was of course an explosion onto the music scene at the time – thermonuclear in impact. It did damn generations to the interminable Eurovision song contest in the hope that one year something like ABBA might also come to the fore, and with such greatness. Regrettably I can think of none that have gone on to achieve what ABBA managed in their remarkable career. One shouldn’t hold that against ABBA though – it’s not their fault!
Voyage then. I couldn’t help but think of the Beatles ‘return’ to fame. In my mind that was a flop – and this fight against the dimming of the light is one that often reveals more in terms of why the light is dimming than it does about a return to the good old days reframed in a modern context. New Beatles music in today’s world didn’t work.
Hence it was with some trepidation that I listened to see if ABBA could pull it off.
The question is, have they?
In short, and I have been wrong before, in my opinion…
ABBA of old was light hearted melodic fun pop executed to an exacting degree with few errors, deviations or outright weirdness. Whilst there are absolutely these elements in this new offering, there are many degrees of obvious maturity coming through.
After all, this is a band who gave us, seriously, lyrics that ran as follows:
“I have a dream…
I passed a stream”
And then absolutely sucker punched you with
“If you see the wonder
In a fairy tale
You can take the future
Even if you fail”
Within the SAME song! It’s this joyous ability to insert what should be biblical teachings into their music from seemingly nowhere that is a curiously unique ABBA trait. It doesn’t work all the time and it doesn’t work the same way for different people, but clearly it works across a wide spectrum in general.
On Voyage however it feels as if the lyrics are attempting more sophistication and meaning, with accompanying melodies that are more serious. The general feeling I get is one of measured introspection – ABBA are too important (and too old) to be frivolous anymore. But they kind of still want to be. Maybe they are 71, 74, 75 and 76 years old respectively but I’ll bet they see themselves now as 40ish…
This is not a bad thing. Perhaps the lesson here is that one should take this within a matured ABBA context and not harken back to the good old days of 70’s rock and pop.
Put it another way. Can you imagine them trying to make music now as if they were 30 again? They’d be excoriated, and probably justifiably. Although, as I have said, I have been known to be wrong.
What Voyage has done is to top charts all over the place almost immediately and it probably deserves to given the lineage. The question posed however is: Is this album good enough that if it were a release by an unheard of unknown band it would be doing as well?
No, of course it wouldn’t. I think the path to the top would have been much less immediate but having said that I do think it would do well anyway with those of us in an age group where ABBA was relevant to us. We’d all identify this album as ABBAesque (apologies to Erasure) in a heart beat and that I think is exactly the point. There is enough ABBAness in there to make it unmistakeable and none of the talent has shown dilution.
Musically then Voyage is great. I’m enjoying the songs and there is a good mix in there with a decent nod to their pop heritage. You’ll see what I mean when you take a listen.
Is it pure ABBA? Is it great ABBA?
Absolutely it is! This is ABBA. Just older. And it’s won me over. Two thumbs up!