The last time ABBA released a new album, Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, Raiders of the Lost Ark was in cinemas and MTV was just launching. A lot has changed since 1981, but now, 40 years later, ABBA are back with their new album Voyage. This is an album that ABBA’s Bjorn Ulvaeus has described as ‘on our terms, organic…. with a sense of depth that comes from 40 years of living and experiencing things.’ Voyage exhibits a wealth of lyrical and musical wisdom with songs that tackle issues from climate change to broken relationships, while also retaining ABBA’s signature emotional sentiment. It is a brilliant (likely) final album from a band that has been adored for nearly half a century.
Voyage begins with the track ‘I Still Have Faith In You’, a beautiful, nostalgic sounding track with lyrics that recollect on the troubled ending of the band and the new beginning that they now face together. “Do I have it in me?” sing Agnetha Falskog and Frida Lyngstad, as they pose the question to the listener but also to themselves. The track slowly builds into a heavy emotional climax with a full orchestra arrangement, as Falskog and Lyngstad sing “we have a story and it survived / and we know we need one another.” With these words, ABBA are firmly putting previous conflicts behind them and have healed wounds that once upon a time seemed beyond repair.
The next song, ‘When You Danced With Me’, is a more upbeat track, which dabbles into the country genre to great success. ABBA have never been a group that have conformed to any particular music genre and this track encompasses that sentiment. ‘When You Danced With Me’ tells the story of a heartbroken girl left alone in an Irish town named Kilkenny due to her lover leaving for “the city.” It is clear that with both the musical arrangement and the subject of the lyrics, they are sticking firmly to their musical roots. ABBA have not tried to reinvent their musical image for the sake of commercial gain, nor have they tried to abide by modern trends. They have instead produced songs that are true to themselves and are a continuation of the music that made them superstars.
This is only reaffirmed by the lead single off of the album, ‘Don’t Shut Me Down’, which contains a piano run just before the thumping chorus that is reminiscent of the one used on ABBA’s iconic 70s’ number one hit ‘Dancing Queen.’ The positive lyrics such as “and now you see another me, I’ve been reloaded, yeah / I’m fired up, don’t shut me down” combined with the uplifting synth instrumental make this a feel good hit that has the power to motivate.
Although ABBA have insisted that they have ‘nothing to prove’ with this album, in light of the lead single becoming a viral sensation on TikTok, which has allowed a new generation to become acquainted with ABBA, one thing is being proven: being true to themselves musically and lyrically will encompass all fans, both new and old.
‘Keep An Eye On Dan’ places heavy emphasis on synth keyboards, combined with a subtler use of violins to great effect. The lyrics centre around the topic of becoming a recent divorcee and the emotional anguish that this entails. Bjorn Ulvaeus’ astounding ability to tell a story through lyrics within four minutes comes to light here. “I can’t believe that I’ve actually / held it together this far / seeing it how I feel / but I said goodbye.” Agnetha Falkskog still retains the power to sound increasingly emotionally vulnerable as the song progresses through her vocals.
‘No Doubt About It’, a catchy upbeat track with lyrics that describe self-inflicted frustration, is further evidence of ABBA’s still present vocal talent. This time it is Frida who takes the lead vocal and demonstrates her vocal prowess, belting out exasperation and hitting every note. If anyone listened to this track without context, they would be forgiven if they believed it was from ABBA’s early 80s’ discography.‘No Doubt About It’ also contains a rampant electric guitar during its chorus that is masterfully put together by Lasse Wellander, a regular guitarist on many past ABBA hits who contributes brilliantly to this energised track.
Voyage also has its softer moments. A surprising inclusion is ‘Little Things’, a Christmas song that describes Christmas morning from the point of view of an older couple. Although this track may sound a little cheesy, one could argue that Christmas songs are meant to be cheesy, and an additional segment of the Children’s Choir of Stockholm International School at the end of the song is a brilliant inclusion. ‘I Can Be That Woman’ details a struggling relationship that has been hurt by alcoholism. “You’re not the man you should have been / I let you down somehow” are lyrics that are full of emotional sentiment and once again show the talent Ulvaeus has for writing lyrics that are beautifully poignant, yet can be related to real-life situations.
‘Bumblebee’ is a standout song from Voyage. Starting with a flute segment sampled from ABBA’s hit track ‘Fernando’, this track is a peaceful tune that centres around the importance of bees and “feeling carefree as I listen to the hum of bumblebees.” This tranquil track is also a look to the future, as Frida’s soft vocals accompany fearful lyrics for future generations. “It’s quite absurd this summer morning / to think we could be trapped inside a world that is changing / too fast for bumblebees to adapt” is a clear reference to the 21st-century problem of climate change and the quickly changing environment that we now experience. ‘Bumblebee’ is a song that one imagines will keep increasing in relevancy.
There is a strong feeling among the quartet that this will be the final ABBA album. Speaking to BBC News, Bjorn Ulvaeus noted that he would ‘never say never’ but he believes ‘that this is our goodbye.’ The last track of Voyage, ‘Ode To Freedom’, is therefore almost certainly the last song the band will ever release. “If I ever wrote my Ode To Freedom / it will be in prose that chimes with me” softly sing Agnetha and Frida, soundtracked by a beautiful full orchestral arrangement, which takes inspiration from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. ABBA have chosen to bow out on a solemn note, and the lyrics reflect the yearning for harmony and freedom in the midst of conflicting times we find ourselves in.
Voyage is an album that is emotionally captivating, genre-bending, and brings together so many distinctive ABBA elements that fans will love.
Words by Ester Scott
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