A deep dive into the 10 songs that make up ABBA's final album.
The day has finally come. Forty years since their last release, Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad have gifted the world with one final ABBA album. In both its production and its sweeping take on the sounds that make up the quartet’s inimitable style of pop, Voyage sounds as if it could have been released at any time over the past four decades.
The namesake of their innovative, motion capture ‘ABBAtar’ show, which comes to London in May 2022, Voyage represents the musical journey of both the ABBA we all know and the personal paths lead by the four members since their hiatus in the early 80s. It seems only right to give such an occasion a closer look, as we break down the record track by track.
‘I Still Have Faith In You’
With knowing lines like “For I know I hear a bittersweet song / In the memories we share” and “We do have it in us / New spirit has arrived”, what other song could the quartet have chosen to introduce their return? Released back in September as the lead single along with ‘Don’t Shut Me Down’, this opener is a rallying cry embellished with lush string orchestrations, wailing guitar riffs and a palpable nervous energy only fitting for such an occasion. If you listen carefully, there are distant synths pulsing in the backdrop, almost like an echo still reverberating from their last LP The Visitors in the early 80s.
‘When You Danced With Me’
On the subject of synths, the opening line of ‘When You Danced With Me’ is immediately enticing, and sounds like pure nostalgia. Though ABBA famously only performed in Ireland once (in Dublin in 1979), there’s a distinctly Irish folk sound to the melody and stomping drums that reflect the opening lines: “I can remember when you left Kilkenny / And you told me ‘I’ll return next year’”.
Perhaps at some point over the years of their hiatus, Benny, Agnetha, Bjorn and Anni kicked themselves for never releasing a Christmas song. Well, now they have. What begins as a classic ABBA piano ballad with typically enchanting vocals soon snowballs into a fully fledged festive anthem, with elves, stockings and of course a children’s choir as the icing on the cake.
‘Don’t Shut Me Down’
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to dance. When ‘Don’t Shut Me Down’ was released with ‘I Still Have Faith In You’ back in September, Charlie Harding of Vulture magazine said that track “sounds like ‘Dancing Queen’ took a 23andMe test and found out that there was a long-lost sibling that had been discovered”, and there are definitely similarities throughout, from the bittersweet climax to Benny’s unmistakeable glissando (you know, that thing when he drags his finger across down across all of the piano keys).
‘Just A Notion’
Benny’s at it again on ‘Just A Notion’, with that opening piano taking us straight back to the 70s. In fact, the track was actually originally recorded in 1978 for Voulez Vous, despite never making the record. The original vocals have remained on this recording, so it really is something of a time capsule – a “ridiculously happy” one at that, as Björn himself described it.
‘I Can Be That Woman’
This one’s a bit of a tearjerker. A piano ballad with a country twist – oof, that 12-string guitar – ‘I Can Be That Woman’ is vivid in its imagery and candid in its message, unpacking mistakes of the past but accepting there is still time to rebuild.
‘Keep an Eye on Dan’
The synths are back on this suspenseful number that carries some of the drama the four do so well, à la ‘SOS’ or ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!’ The highlight has got to be those dramatic strings that come in subtly in the second verse.
This is another oldie that’s been reincarnated, though in a slightly different form. An adaptation of their 1978 demo ‘Free As A Bumblebee‘, which was originally sung by the Benny and Björn, this track still takes inspiration from the humble bee but less so now it’s carefree nature and more its symbolism of a fragile world: “It’s quite absurd, this summer morning / To think we could be trapped / Inside a world where all is changing”.
‘No Doubt About It’
This might be Voyage’s biggest singalong. In fact, should there ever be another Mama Mia! film then this will surely get its moment, perhaps as, say, Greek locals break out into synchronised dance while Pierce Brosnan looks over smolderingly? While the versus take an almost sci-fi synth pop angle that sounds like a new direction for the group, we’re pulled back to reality for a quintessential ABBA chorus.
‘Ode To Freedom’
Well, how to close what has been assured as ABBA’s final album? There will inevitably be those who would want the group to end on a bang, but it’s hard to argue with the elegance of this closing number, sounding more like it’s from a ballet with its waltz-like grace and timeless melody orchestrated by strings. Though it matches, if not surpasses, the majesty of the opening track, it’s interesting that lyrically it lacks the winks and nods, and instead opts for a tone more akin to the wise words of a statesman or monarch. Then again, in the kingdom of pop, ABBA really are the royalty.
Find tickets for ABBA Voyage here.