As gay people, it’s our responsibility to talk about Abba.
Voyage is the ninth and most recent studio album by 70s disco pop group Abba, who are now in their 70s and have decided to put out another album despite not having done this for decades. Not to spoil the whole review in one paragraph, but it’s quite good.
It’s a quieter album than a lot of the very famous Abba work like Voulez-Vous or Waterloo or what have you. A lot of the songs on it such as I Still Have Faith in You and Ode to Freedom are slower ballads rather than the more pop-centred dance hits that a lot of people might be used to hearing from Abba, especially if they’re mostly familiar with Abba Gold, which is their bestselling album (and also the second best selling album of all time, I believe). But the songs are quite solid.
I think the most important thing about them is that they sound like Abba. Of course, bands are entitled to change their sound whenever they want; it’s their art and it’s unfair to be mad at them for wanting to do new things. But for a band that’s been broken up since the late 80s to come back with a new album, I think continuity is very important. There’s nothing new in Voyage and to be quite honest, there is nothing wrong with that. Sometimes it’s good for things not to change. Hearing it, you probably could have convinced me that these were just some Abba songs from decades ago that I’d somehow never heard (there always seem to be a few of those, I only heard Kisses of Fire for the first time a few years ago, and it instantly became a favourite for the way it captures all of Abba’s tackiest impulses in one short song).
I’m not the first person to say that Voyage feels like a goodbye. Abba never did a farewell tour or anything like that, they just quietly broke up in the late 80s and never performed again, and basically all of them said over the years they weren’t interested in reuniting. They moved on with their lives—they worked on other projects, had other collaborators, had solo careers, one of them became a princess (I am quite serious, Anni-Frid Lyngstad is now Her Serene Highness Princess Anni-Frid, Dowager Countess of Plouen). They were in Abba, it was a large part of their lives, and then they moved on and had lives, and that’s fine. It’s very understandable that someone would want to move on after something so big.
But sometimes it’s hard to stay away from something that so defined your early life. Abba is back, possibly only for a short time, and yes, possibly it’s just so they can give themselves a send off. A lot of the songs on Voyage have a melancholic feel that suggests sadness at parting, but an encouragement to look back on positive things and to remember how much we liked being together, and I think that’s very sweet. They’ve said in interviews that this album is on their terms—that rather than doing it because some studio offered them fistfuls of money (which I’m sure did happen anyway), they did it because this was an album that they wanted to make, and I’m glad for them.
I’m not writing much about the specific songs of the album because you can hear them for yourselves, but I do want to take a second to highlight Keep an Eye on Dan. It’s the most upbeat song on the album and lyrically I find it very odd. I quite like it, but if you listen to the lyrics it’s somewhat bizarre. At first I thought it was about this unsavoury character named Dan who was attempting to cause trouble for Abba, and the narrative of the song was encouraging the listener to keep an eye on him because he might try something untoward and possibly sexual in nature, and he should be stopped in order to keep everyone safe. But then I listened to it again and it really felt like a list of instructions that Abba was leaving their babysitter as they walked out the door, as though Dan is their naughty boy who will cause trouble if he is not properly supervised, fed and sent to bed on time. I don’t know who Dan is or what he did to Abba, but I feel like I somehow relate to their concern about him either way. It’s definitely my favourite song on the album, even if I do like the overall slower sound Voyage has.
It’s worth mentioning, since I did point out the silly lyrics in Keep and Eye on Dan, that the lyrics in most of the songs are rather tacky, but the lyrics of most Abba songs are rather tacky; it is part of their overall appeal and to pretend otherwise is to deny part of what makes Abba so entertaining. Think of their most famous songs: Dancing Queen; Money, Money, Money; Waterloo; Gimme, Gimme, Gimme (a Man after Midnight). They are scarcely serious songs with deep meaningful lyrics, and the songs on Voyage, despite their slower tone, are not different. Once again, I personally think this is a wonderful thing. I have to hope that with this new album, someone will decide to produce Mamma Mia 3, because now that there’s new Abba music, it seems a waste not to make a third film.
Putting the album on I could believe that Abba had never left, and even if this means they are leaving now, I have to say I am more than content with that.