The journey to Voyage stretched over forty years — with a single tweet from the band’s sparkling new Twitter account, fans were coaxed back towards the glittering foursome who shaped seventies pop.
By September, track one was out. ‘Don’t Shut Me Down’ followed a shower of promo, including posters, the promise of a 10-track album and a “digital avatar” concert to happen in a special London arena.
The silhouette, solar eclipse feature image promised a new era of ABBA — one to reignite the disco spirit, if you will, after the peak of coronavirus. But, upon release, it toppled down with a disappointing thud, searching in the dark to find the fire they once lit the Top of the Pops stage with.
‘Don’t Let Me Down’ lit a spark, fulfilling a brief moment of optimism with its spirited pop-funk groove. In the wake of COVID, its glistening piano-synth foundation seemed exactly the kind of forward-moving energy we needed. After all, it became ABBA’s first Top 10 hit since 1981. But other than that, it pretty much fell flat.
The bittersweet opening track ‘I Still Have Faith In You’ held out hope. With the ripened voices of Agnetha and Anni-Frid, the ballad was a gentle reminder that aging is not a terrifying process. Rather, through rich string phrases, we can look wistfully back on memories and have confidence in the future, rather than fear it. Again, for a song released during a pandemic, it’s not the worst message.
However, by ‘Little Things’, the third track, things were no longer sweet and reflective. With its nursery rhyme-esque melody painting a picture of a Christmas morning, Benny came far from producing his best work. During the festive season, Christmas songs should be catchy and fun. But with this disappointing blend of cringe and overkill, it’s not something that could be “played for Christmases to come,” as Benny told Apple Music. If the melody wasn’t enough, it randomly clashes a children’s choir together with lyrics about their parents’ sex lives.
There also runs a strong theme throughout Björn and Benny’s song writing — women pining after men. It threads its way through several ABBA classics, including ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!’ and ‘One Of Us’, and now weaves its way into Voyage. It’s quite painful hearing the lyrics to ‘I Can Be That Woman’ and seeing that they haven’t evolved with time:“You’re not the man you should’ve been / I let you down somehow.”
“Only we know what is fact and what is fiction about our life experiences together,” said Benny on the song to Apple Music. “It’s a kind of freedom that you get. With 70, you get that freedom.”
They’re older and more experienced, but it’s still another miserable attempt to recreate the magic Abba could once conjure with those songs. The fact of the matter is that it’s no longer the 70s.
With the album’s overall style confusion and mishmash of genre, it doesn’t get away with being diverse. Instead, it just sounds unsure of itself. ‘Just A Notion’ was chucked in at number five as a rejected track from 1978, trying to echo Abba’s glamorous, early 70s jives with little success.
Even ‘Ode To Freedom’ started out promising with an excerpt from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake as a grand closing statement, but dribbled down the drain when its lyrics expressed the hopelessness of writing songs and words worth remembering. Aren’t ABBA a world-renowned band?
It could’ve been a voyage worth taking, but it wasn’t. It’s hard to believe when a hay day’s over, but sometimes it’s best to bask in retirement knowing your worth is still intact. Perhaps it’s as simple as this: don’t fix what ain’t broke.
Featured image credit: NME