c-voyage

ABBA’s latest album “Voyage” came out on Nov. 5, nearly 40 years after their last studio album. Though ABBA fans around the world waited for this release with bated breath, I fear they’ll be disappointed by how unrecognizable most of the record is.

The Swedish pop supergroup is iconic for pure 70s disco. The genre is so intertwined with their brand that to even mention ABBA is bound to make a staunch “disco-is-dead”-er cringe. “Voyage” is a departure from the Eurovision-style pop the group is known for. Björn Ulvaeus, one of the four Swedes, said in an interview with Apple Music, “Please take us as we are now and don't shut us down. It's a little flirt with the disco of the '70s, but other than that, I don't think that any of the old songs have had any impact on the new songs.” 

The problem is, people love the old songs. When most people think of ABBA, they think of “Dancing Queen,” “Super Trouper,” and “Fernando”. The disco ambiance of the 70s is what made ABBA so popular, one of the most popular musical acts in the world. This ABBA renaissance needed the rocket power of the 70s, and without it, the album falls flat.

The first track on the album, “I Still Have Faith In You,” is a slow introduction to the new ABBA. The lyrics are all about how long it’s been and how close the group holds their memories of the band’s heyday. The group formed in 1972, put out eight studio albums prior to this one and spent four tours together; there’s a lot of history for them to reflect on. While this is by no means one of my favorite songs on the album due to its lack of anything resembling groove, it’s a strong, emotional launchpad. 

And then it crashed and burned. Most of “Voyage” doesn’t sound like an album at all — it sounds like I’m dialing through radio stations. We go from a Celtic march featuring synth bagpipes to a Christmas song sure to rock Star 104.5, to soft pop about addiction vaguely inspired by Tammy Wynette. Of course, all of this is sung by Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, but they’re in their early-70s and somehow their accents got thicker over the last four decades, so there’s no denying that the confusion of songs are still ABBA tracks.

I almost got into this album before “Little Things” switched on. It’s a Christmas song through and through, complete with a glockenspiel and children’s choir. I don’t have a problem with groups making Christmas music — it feels like everyone from Taylor Swift to KISS has a Christmas album — but the third track on a classic band’s revival album is not the place to debut a Christmas tune. 

“Bumblebee” is another track that I cannot stand. It’s a really pretty, slow ballad that sounds like something my aunt would play at the end of a funeral. It’s lyrics are generally pleasant and pastoral, but it has the most heavy-handed message about climate change I’ve seen since I read “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson. Don’t get me wrong, I hate climate change as much as the next nihilistic zoomer, but this song is 50 years too late. If ABBA had written this song in the 70s, I think it could’ve been a worthwhile endeavor. There’s no reason for them to tell us that they’re “Feeling sad for all those who’d never / Hear the hum of bumblebees,” when we’re all sad about that and we’ve all known that the climate is on the brink of collapse. It just feels out of touch.

Speaking of out of touch, I’ve never heard a more patronizing ending song to an album. The tenth and final song on “Voyage” is called “Ode To Freedom” and is all about how ABBA can’t write an “ode to freedom” because they’re rich and famous. They said their “ode to freedom” would come across as suspicious because of their privilege. I interpreted this as four billionaires whining about how rich they are and saying that they can’t connect to the people anymore. I know ABBA has more brain cells than the one-and-a-half required to come to that conclusion, so I don’t know why they decided to close their revival album by saying, “Boo hoo, I’m too rich for the commoners.”

I can’t lie and say all the songs are awful. “Keep An Eye On Dan” has the most ABBA flavor of the whole record. The song is about divorcing and leaving a child behind with your ex-spouse, something all four of the members went through when Fältskog and Ulvaeus divorced in 1980, followed quickly by Lyngstad and Benny Andersson. The low synth throughout the tune and sudden additions of a string orchestra at high-tension points makes for a dramatic mood, and the quintessential disco drum beat makes it ABBA.

“No Doubt About It” is another favorite of mine, again for its recognition that ABBA’s name belongs on music from a different time. The up-tempo drums, prominent bass line and a staccato chorus that rarely strays from the same few notes makes this track sound like 80s girl rock. It’s not classic ABBA disco, but it’s also not modern, which is where I think the group gets in the most trouble with this album.

My absolute favourite song off “Voyage” is “Just A Notion.” That would be because it was recorded in 1978 for the “Voulez-Vous” album. You can tell that this is a song from over 40 years ago — Fältskog and Lyngstad sound completely different, after all — but that’s what makes it good. It is undeniably ABBA. It’s a summertime disco groove that earns its place on my 70s playlist because it’s actually from the 70s. It’s what people expected from this album.

I think “Voyage” is going to be the least listened-to album in ABBA history. When a group’s identity is linked so closely to a genre of music that itself is linked to a decade 50 years ago, it’s nearly impossible to modernize. I’m not exaggerating when I say a third of this album was listenable. For every other song, I was resisting skipping ahead to anything that sounded remotely funky. The best shot ABBA had was to come back ready for a “Mamma Mia 3,” but instead we got a slow, heavy-handed song about climate change and Christmas music. Please, gimme gimme gimme my ABBA back.

culture@dailynebraskan.com