Music Features, Spotlights

ABBA voyage back after 40 years with new album and digital arena show



The Swedish superstars belong to a time when the release of an album was a cultural event. This announcement is up there with those

ABBA

ABBA (Photo: Baillie Walsh)

So the wait is finally over. After years of speculation, confirmation, and then delay ABBA have confirmed their first new music in almost 40 years. In a press conference in Stratford, London, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus appeared to announce that their ninth studio album will be released on 5 November, entitled Voyage. Two songs from the forthcoming album, I Still Have Faith In You and Don’t Shut Me Down, were premiered, alongside the announcement of a virtual concert experience that will give people a chance to see a digital ABBA in a specially constructed ABBA Arena in London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park beginning on 27 May 2022.

The first whispers of ABBA reuniting came in 2018, and two song titles were teased in 2019, and then nothing – until now. After completing the two songs in Andersson’s Riksmixingsverket studio the band decided to keep writing and recording. As Anni-Frid Lyngstad observed, “Those first sessions back in 2018 were such fun and when Benny called and asked if I’d consider singing some more I jumped at it!” The result is an album of 10 new songs. The excitement probably could have stopped there, but the announcement of a virtual live experience adds another layer to this.

After deciding that a tour wasn’t realistic the band, with the help of an 850 strong team of creatives, devised a spectacular virtual live music experience. The group spent five weeks in motion capture suits performing what will become the Voyage Concert surrounded by 160 cameras digitising their every move, thanks to the team from George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic, who make their first foray into a musical event. The show’s producers sport credits including working on David Bowie’s Blackstar and Lazarus projects, the movie Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again and the TV series Chernobyl. Director Baillie Walsh has worked on a number of high profile musical projects, whilst choreographer Wayne McGregor’s CV includes extensive work with the Royal Ballet. The concerts will take place in a specially constructed 3,000 seat arena where the “ABBA-tars” will perform alongside a 10-piece live band playing classic hits and tracks from the new album.

The group decided upon the location during a visit last year, as Ulvaeus explained: “London is the best city to be in when it comes to entertainment, theatre, musicals… We have always felt that the Brits see us as their own.” Tickets go on sale on 7 September.

Alongside the announcement came the two new songs. I Still Have Faith In You was one of the the songs originally trailed for release back in 2018 and was the first of the new material to be recorded. It’s an ABBA ballad which stands with their very best. The other, Don’t Shut Me Down, is a gently chugging number which could comfortably sit alongside songs from any of their later albums.

ABBA remain a major part of the fabric of our cultural landscape, so with the huge anticipation of new material comes with the obvious risk that it won’t measure up to their former glories. Yet what’s so impressive, almost to the point of being unsettling, is how much these songs sound exactly like the ABBA all those eagerly anticipating this return hoped to hear. There are subdued intros, shining harmonies, a nice build on the more uptempo number, and that hint of the glacial in the ballad. The assured touch Benny and Björn always applied to their writing is there. The two songs sound like they could have been delivered 40 years ago without missing a beat.

ABBA - Voyage

ABBA – Voyage

Yet there is something else here. In the voices, especially on I Still Have Faith In You, there’s a palpable sense of their age. These are songs being sung by older women whose tone will have lowered, naturally, with age. The lower sung portions of I Still Have Faith In You demonstrate that clearly. Yet this doesn’t detract at all. It feels, instead, like the songs themselves are part of something transcendent. Part of the surprise and pleasure is that they feel like they are outside of time. ABBA’s enduring popularity owes a debt to their songs sounding and feeling timeless, for although they are all written during a specific time they’ve lasted precisely because they are not held captive within it. An ABBA song works just as well in 2021 as it did in 1979.

Every week dozens of artists announce the release of new albums, yet this feels utterly different. Not only does the music seem to belong to another, albeit unquantifiable, time; everything else about is different. After all, this is a return that comes with what is set to be an utterly unique live musical experience. We live in a world where you can just log on and listen entire back catalogues of an artist’s music (and doubtless many have probably spent the last few days doing exactly that with ABBA), in an age where new music rarely gets noticed outside of its core fanbase. Seriously, ask yourself the last time a new album got coverage on News At Ten? What will set this apart even further is that millions of people are looking forward not only to hearing the new songs but going out and actually buying them.

ABBA belong to a time when the release of an album was a cultural event. A time when groups held huge receptions to announce their records, parties on boats, even sailing giant effigies of the artist down the Thames. This announcement is up there with those. These weren’t one-off examples we sometimes get today but regular occurrences followed by people heading to buy them on the day of release or adding them to their Christmas present wish lists. To a generation who’ve grown up knowing a new release can be consumed at the click of a button this will seem thoroughly unfamiliar, but to their parents and grandparents, this is how it should be done. As ABBA embark on a new Voyage it seems clear that they will have legions of fellow travellers.

Further details of ABBA’s Voyage album and the Voyage Concert can be found at abbavoyage.com


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