In an autumn absolutely stuffed with blockbuster albums, from Drake’s and Ed Sheeran’s inevitable mega-sellers to Coldplay’s poppiest collection and the long-awaited comeback of Adele, this is the biggest news of all. No one as popular as ABBA has ever waited this long between albums. The Eagles took 28 years to make a comeback on record, Pink Floyd waited 20 and Blondie 16 – brief pauses for breath next to the 39 years and 11 months since Agnetha, Anni-Frid, Benny and Björn released The Visitors.
Voyage, under secret construction since 2018 in Benny Andersson’s Stockholm studio, is also unusual in that it arrives at a time when the Swedish group are far from forgotten and aren’t in need of reappraisal. They are surely more universally adored now than even at their late Seventies commercial peak, now that Mamma Mia! the musical and two movies have imprinted their skyscraping choruses on younger generations. Their hits collection Gold, first released in 1992, has stayed in the UK top 40 throughout 2021.
So there’s no real need to make new music, and no chance of a world tour for these famously reluctant live performers. Instead a 10-piece live band will back youthful projected “ABBAtars” in a specially built concert venue in the Olympic Park from May til the end of 2022. In these circumstances, Voyage can be considered a triumph for existing at all.
Grateful ears have already thrilled to the overpowering emotion of the opening song, I Still Have Faith in You, on which the women wonder, “Do I have it in me?” and receive a resounding “Yes!” in reply. But fans will find their patience tested immediately afterwards when they follow it with the jigging Irish folk of When You Danced With Me and then jump into a Christmas song, of all things, complete with chintzy xylophone and a children’s choir.
The second comeback single, Don’t Shut Me Down, with its hand sweeping down across the piano keys and rubber ball bassline, is ABBA having fun again. No Doubt About It is another treat, so immediately catchy that you’ll feel confident singing along within 30 seconds. But elsewhere, particularly during the dragging ballad I Can Be That Woman and the orchestral closer Ode to Freedom, it’s hard to envisage anything here elbowing its way onto a future edition of the Gold album. Of course it’s wonderful, miraculous even, to see and hear them again, but these aren’t the songs people will clamour for when those concerts begin.