Is ABBA’s comeback an aberration or fabber than ever? Here’s Ian Sime’s verdict

ABBA’s artwork for Voyage, the long, long-awaited follow-up to The Visitors

ABBA,  Voyage (Polar) *****

WHAT were you doing 40 years ago?

While Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Leonid Brezhnev ruled the world, we saw the opening of the Humber Bridge, the capture of Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe, the running of the first London Marathon, and we all celebrated the nuptials of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer.  

Significantly, ABBA’s eighth studio album, The Visitors, was released on November 30 1981. At the time, we had no idea that this was to be their swansong as a collective.

For although both vocalists have sporadically returned to the main stage, and Benny & Bjorn have written for musical theatre and the occasional guest artist, nothing quite matched the glory of the real ABBA.

Only a handful of bands have caught the imagination of multiple generations. Certainly, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, Led Zeppelin and Queen are in this category. So too are ABBA.

It is a testament to the power of the Swedes’ music that many a fan of the Mamma Mia! theatre production and movies were not even born when Agnetha, Bjorn, Benny and Anni-Frid first unveiled their music.  

So, 40 years on, Voyage is the album that many a fan never dared would happen, indeed the Holy Grail of Pop. With much fanfare, on September 2, the world was introduced to the opening track I Still Have Faith in You. Anni-Frid’s lead vocal lay down the mission statement in an overtly sentimental song about friendship, faith, doubt and determination.

Welcome back after 40 years: ABBA’s Björn Ulvaeus, 76, Agnetha Fältskog, 71, Anni-Frid Lyngstad, 76, and Benny Andersson, 74

At the same press launch, we were introduced to Agnetha’s tour de force, Don’t Shut Me Down, featuring Benny’s heavy piano glissando, rich strings and a harp or two in a huge orchestral arrangement.

Now comes the rest: When You Danced With Me is a Celtic-themed jig that captures the joy of The Piper from Super Trouper, while Bumblebee is pure Fernando.  Meanwhile, Just A Notion sounds like a vintage classic that would not have been out of place on Arrival.

Lyrically, I Can Be That Woman and Keep An Eye On Dan showcase maturing couples in marital disharmony. The latter track embraces the sense of menace and tension Bjorn and Benny used to best effect on their Chess album.

The adult theme is best captured in the simply gorgeous, tender ballad Little Things. An unabashed Christmas song, this is a work of beauty, showcasing the pleasures of the season, as seen through the eyes of a child witnessed by the grandmother, albeit aided with a little inspiration from Mozart.

Likewise, the anthemic Ode To Freedom borrows from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and evokes Like An Angel Passing Through My Room. Both are destined to become classics by any standard. What a glorious return.  

Little surprise then that sales for Voyage in its first week eclipse those of the entire Top 40 combined. This may have been supported by no less than TWENTY physical versions of the album, available in limited quantities.

The best of the bunch are the two beautiful picture discs, but was it really necessary to churn out multiple coloured (green, white, yellow, orange, blue, black) albums, cassettes and CDs in various artwork versions to pump up sales? No wonder there is a global vinyl shortage!

Review by Ian Sime