Photo: Baillie Walsh / Press

Pop Royals ABBA Are Back

We often dub artists the Kings, Queens, Princes, and Princesses of Pop, but the truth is that the real royals of pop are the iconic Swedish band ABBA. 

While most people nowadays might associate them with glittery disco outfits or the Meryl Streep/Amanda Seyfried movie Mamma Mia, today’s pop music wouldn’t exist without their repertoire. Think of songs like “Waterloo,” “Dancing Queen,” and “Super Trouper,” and you start to realize their own track record of success. Unsurprisingly, they belong to the greatest bands of all time, with more than 370 million records sold worldwide. In fact, the band kick-started the Swedish influence in pop — one that, in turn, has made the careers of Madonna, Britney Spears, Taylor Swift, and The Weeknd, to name a few. Their infectious melodies, the impeccable harmonies, and genial chord progressions have shaped how pop music has evolved since the ’70s.  

But while their songs remain effortless, pure pop classics, ABBA themselves did not stand the test of time. They took a break in 1982 that essentially spelled the end of the group’s career. It’s why the announcement in 2018 of a potential reunion and new songs got everyone’s interest piqued. The members of the band — Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Agnetha Fältskog, Benny Anderson, and Björn Kristian Ulvaeus — had reunited after 35 years and had rediscovered their joy for making music together.

Today, an entire new generation that has grown up with ABBA’s songs and influence but, without the actual band, gets to enjoy new music with fans from the beginning. Of course, that also means expectations are ridiculously high. Can they still deliver, 40 years onward from their extended break? The band has set out to prove just that by immediately offering not one, but a double single release: power balled “I Still Have Faith in You” and the uptempo “Don’t Shut Me Down.” Of course, time has aged their voices, but Lyngstad and Fältskog sound as formidable as ever. There’s something absolutely comforting and convincing when they sing “we still have it in us” — ABBA definitely do still have it in them! The electric guitar in “I Still Have Faith in You” is unmistakably unique and defining of a good ABBA song. Similarly, the lyricism and piano in “Don’t Shut Me Down” immediately tell you this cannot be anything but an ABBA classic in the making.

The songs are part of a larger project. The band has announced a hologram tour and an album, Voyage, with 10 new songs. All four members also spoke of their journey on getting to this point:

Anderson said that they “simply call it ‘Voyage’ and we’re truly sailing in uncharted waters. With the help of our younger selves, we travel into the future. It’s not easy to explain but then it hasn’t been done before. … It’s hard to say what’s been the most joyful thing for me with this project. If it’s the involvement in creating the concert together with everyone or being back in the studio together again after 40 years. I think hearing Frida and Agnetha singing again is hard to beat. When you come to the arena you will have the four of us together with an absolutely glorious 10-piece band. And even if not in the flesh, we will be right there, thanks to the work of the creative team and ILM.”

Lyngstad added, “Those first sessions back in 2018 were such fun and when Benny called and asked if I’d consider singing some more I jumped at it! And what songs!! My respect and love go out to these exceptionally talented, truly genius songwriters! Such joy it was to work with the group again. I am so happy with what we have made, and I dearly hope our fans feel the same.”

Similarly, Fältskog felt that she only really got a sense of what was going to happen once she’d gone into the studio with the others. “When we got back together in the studio I had no idea what to expect…But Benny’s recording studio is such a friendly and safe environment, and before I knew it I was really enjoying myself! I can hardly believe that finally, the moment has come to share this with the world!”

 “They’re such amazing singers those two, I was completely floored by the way they delivered those songs. They’re true musicians; totally unimpressed by pop star glamour but still having a great time being creative in a recording studio. The ‘Voyage’ project has injected new life into us in more ways than one,” Ulvaeus added.

It’s amazing to see how ABBA have not only reconnected with each other and their music, but have done so gracefully. It’s not the same ABBA as they were in 1982, and you’ll hear that in the songs. But that’s absolutely OK, and it only seems fitting. They are wiser and older now and so is their music. They do say it best in “Don’t Shut Me Down”: “I’m not the one you knew / I’m now and then combined / And I’m asking you to have an open mind (And I won’t be the same) / I’m not the same this time around (Ooh) / I’m fired up, don’t shut me down.”