Metro Weekly

Album Review: ABBA makes a triumphant return with “Voyage”

Four decades on, ABBA cement their legendary status with an instantly iconic final studio album

ABBA
ABBA Digital via Industrial Light and Magic

When the first new ABBA tracks in decades landed earlier this year, they almost didn’t feel real. Forty years since their last studio album, ABBA had become one of those groups that might occasionally reunite for a cameo or two, but were otherwise quietly comfortable with their status as musical icons from another era. The two stellar singles released in September upended all of that. Whatever followed them was going to have a convincing claim to being the biggest album of the year, but with Voyage (★★★★★), the supergroup has exceeded all expectations, triumphantly launching the final act of their careers.

One of the most striking things about the album, and especially its lead singles, is just how “ABBA” it sounds. This shouldn’t be surprising, in theory, given this is the exact same group. But from vocals to instrumentation, they sound like they have been frozen in time since The Visitors. “I Still Have Faith In You” is a journey all on its own — had ABBA written and released this track by itself, it would have stood on its own as a satisfying coda to their career. And somehow, they immediately one-up themselves with “Don’t Shut Me Down.” A song full of drama, lust, nostalgia and a bit of measured desperation, it is not just a high point of the album but easily one of ABBA’s best singles.

The strength of the two singles sets high expectations for the rest of the album, but ABBA wisely avoids attempting to match their energy. Instead, Voyage is an album that almost sounds afraid to repeat itself. In a statement from the band released in the lead-up to Voyage, they mentioned that their goal was to pick up where they had left off with their last album, The Visitors. Compared to what had come before it, that album was notable for its moody complexity, which finds an echo in the more intense, melodramatic tracks like “Keep An Eye On Dan” and “No Doubt About It.”

ABBA
ABBA in motion capture suits — Photo: Baillie Walsh

Moodier moments aside, they are as unafraid here as ever to lean into pure kitsch when it suits them, as they do with the old-country tin whistle and bagpipes of “When I Danced With You.” “Little Things” is full of even more unabashed schmaltz, conjuring a cozy Christmas scene with lyrics about stockings and waiting for Santa, all complete with chimes and a children’s choir. They dial back a bit with “Just A Notion,” a standout earworm that revisits the breezy disco-pop that they first rode to international superstardom.

Voyage takes another cue from its predecessor in the distinct melancholy undercurrent lurking behind its lighthearted melodies. ABBA are more preoccupied than ever with the passage of time, both the irretrievable past and the inevitable future, usually expressing it in lyrics about lives and relationships that have drifted far from where they used to be. They can’t help but allow some present anxiety to creep in on “Bumble Bee,” which brings back the tin whistle and sets its sense of childlike wonder uncomfortably alongside the specter of ecological collapse looming in the background. Its scene of a serene afternoon in the garden contemplating a bumblebee (“I wonder how he can fly at all”) is clouded with fear for a world “changing too fast for bumblebees to adapt.”

ABBA
ABBA: Voyage

Voyage is many things, but it reads more than anything like a love letter from ABBA to their fans. Taking cues from the high note they left on with what is widely remembered as their most complex and fully-realized album, ABBA have outdone even themselves. Though on first blush it sounds like something that could have fallen out of a time capsule from 1981, it is full of lyrics about reconnecting after years apart and remembering the good times, as if to say, “It’s been a while, and yes, we missed you, too.”

Voyage is available everywhere Nov. 5. ABBA is due to kick off ABBA Voyage, a holographic London concert residency, in May of 2022. Visit www.abbasite.com.

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