ABBA 2021 new music review: I’ve been reloaded

So after 5 years of waiting, ABBA finally unveiled their new album Voyage this morning. It’s landing unexpectedly early, on 5 November. I have already pre-ordered a stupidly large number of copies in multiple formats.

Naturally, I watched the YouTube livestream announcing the album (and the virtual “ABBAtar” concerts in London next year) at the entirely antisocial hour of 2:45am. The obvious highlight? The two new songs, ‘I Still Have Faith In You’ and ‘Don’t Shut Me Down’. The first has a Frida lead vocal, the second showcases Agnetha. (The biggest complaint about the livestream was that neither of the ladies showed up in person. Can’t win ’em all!)

It’s all very recognisably ABBA, and you can easily imagine these songs popping onto 1980’s Super Trouper, for instance. (The synth stylings of 1981’s fantastic The Visitors, what we thought was the “last” album from ABBA, are rather less in evidence.)

‘I Still Have Faith In You’ builds and builds, moving from a almost-naked Frida vocal to layers of percussion alongside characteristic ABBA-esque guitar breaks, combining shades of ‘Our Last Summer’ and reminding me also of the magnificent ‘Anthem’ from Chess.

‘Don’t Shut Me Down’ is boppier, and has some melodic disco touches that are quite reminiscent of ‘If It Wasn’t From The Nights’ from 1979’s Voulez-Vous.

The lyrics for both songs both cleverly tap into feelings of nostalgia. ‘Don’t Shut Me Down’ tells the tale of a woman attempting to reunite with a former lover. It’s a classic Bjorn story song, but lines like “And now you see another me/I’ve been reloaded” also seem a fitting commentary on the prospect of new ABBA material after four decades away.

The Voyage album promises other unexpected treats. Two of the tracks, ‘Just A Notion’ and ‘Bumblebee’, would seem to be full and complete versions of songs which appeared in demo form as part of the 1994 ‘Abba Undeleted’ medley on the Thank You For The Music box set. That’s not surprising: ABBA often spent years playing with melodic fragments before they finally became full songs.

I’m guessing that ‘Bumblebee’ in particular will have been considerably reworked, since the demo version includes a melody which ultimately ended up as part of ‘I Know Him So Well’ from Chess. It was also used in ‘I Am An A’, the track the band used to introduce itself during its 1977 tour.

The ‘Bumblebee’ demo features a Bjorn lead vocal. Will this be the token male vocal on the album (every ABBA album had one), or is 2021 ABBA all about the women? Time will tell. Roll on November!

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