Culture Pick | ABBA takes us on a ‘Voyage’ like no other

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Maddy Reda | @maddyreda1, Staff Reporter

Swedish pop powerhouse ABBA has made a triumphant return to the public eye with “Voyage,” their first full-length studio album in nearly four decades. 

With nine studio albums, seven compilation albums, two live albums and over 50 chart-topping singles, the Stockholm quartet made their mark on pop culture in the thick of the disco era with songs like “Super Trouper,” “Dancing Queen” and “Mamma Mia,” the last of which went on to inspire one of Broadway’s most influential musicals.

“Voyage,” the 10-track album released on Nov. 5, was the first album to be released by the band since its 1981 album “The Visitors.”

Despite having not performed together in decades, Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Agnetha Fältskog — whose first names cleverly spell out the “ABBA” acronym — still operate as a cohesive musical machine on “Voyage.”

ABBA’s balanced, rich vocal harmonies are revived on nearly every track, floating above each note of Andersson’s melodic piano work on songs like “Don’t Shut Me Down” and “Ode to Freedom.”

Lyngstad and Fältskog reprise their roles as the lead singers of the band and show that age is just a number through their smooth, velvety belts and vocal runs onJust a Notion.” Performing in the same key as they did 40 years ago is an impressive feat for the band, especially when both lead singers are well-known sopranos or mezzo-sopranos.

The band stays true to its trademark musicality, romantic harmonies and thematic elements of its lyrics on “Voyage,” making it nearly impossible to tell whether the songs were recorded in 1970 or 2021.

Despite having today’s modern studio bells and whistles at their disposal, ABBA opted to return to their signature sound with complicated orchestral arrangements, europop dance synthesizers and the use of a classical piano to tell the story of “Voyage.”

Ulvaeus described the 10 new songs as “absolutely trend-blind” to reporters at The Guardian, saying that it was a conscious and deliberate choice to ignore whatever musical trends had taken over the radio waves.

While many bands often switch genres in the hope of having a successful comeback, ABBA stuck with what they knew in the form of ballads and playful love songs.

ABBA’s future originally looked bleak due to the band’s sudden breakup, a fracture caused by the two couples in the band both divorcing. 

“In the beginning of the ’80s, when we stopped recording, it felt as though ABBA was completely done, and there would be no more talk about it,” Ulvaeus said to The Guardian. “It was actually dead. It was so uncool to like ABBA.”

Nobody would predict ABBA’s posthumous star to ever rise again, until the Broadway musical “Mamma Mia” took Broadway by storm in 1999, generating two successful movie sequels and a fresh generation of ABBA fans.

ABBA is accompanying their final album with an out-of-this-world live show, set to premiere in London in 2022.

Tickets to see the “Voyage” live show have sold out due to the unique concept of making a 10-piece live band accompany four de-aged, virtual “Abbatars” to put on a musical experience like no other.

“The tech side, the possibility of doing something nobody has ever done before, that was so tempting and hard to resist,” Ulvaeus said. “This project has been meandering, but it has a kind of role and a direction, and it’s going to be wonderful to see what it becomes. It will be, I think, an experience that no one has ever had before.”

Despite a groundbreaking hologram show set to run for the next four and a half years, both Andersson and Ulvaeus confirmed that there will be no further musical releases from ABBA following “Voyage.”

It appears as if the “Voyage” live show and album will be the band’s crown jewel in a legacy spanning nearly half a century.

Questions? Email the Culture desk at culture@cw.ua.edu.