ABBA Took 40 Years Off Work Before Deciding To Return

As Australia slept through the early hours of September 3, Agnetha, Anni-Frid, Benny and Björn reunited as ABBA for the first time in four decades. With them, they brought news of a new album, a digital London concert, pics of them looking like robot Wiggles and two brand spanking new songs.

ABBA’s legacy is one of the most baffling and affirming phenomena of modern pop culture. Some forty years since they released their last album – 1981’s The Visitors – and their stranglehold on us all continues to tighten. Their very unique brand of melodramatic cheese-pop feels like a rare thing that can unite us all – especially when a global pandemic feels like it's tearing us all apart.

Maybe that’s why they chose this very moment to mark the highly-anticipated and long overdue return.

Around 3am on the morning of September 3rd, ABBA announced that they have reunited in a huge way – a new digital concert, a new album and two new songs for us to sink our teeth into right fuckin’ now.

Part of ABBA’s ongoing appeal is that nobody did it like them. Their consistently maximalist, incredibly camp take on pop music has allowed them to seep into moments of pop culture long after the rest of us thought they’d hung it up for good. Muriel’s Wedding spoke to a very particular type of daggy Australian experience which ABBA weaved their way into, and Mamma Mia! – both the musical and the films – wouldn’t have had the success they did if it weren’t for audiences’ already established adoration for the Swedish superstars. (Meryl Streep probably helped too.)

But, the fear with a band with an untouchable legacy releasing new music is that they could tarnish it. Whose discography contains songs as anthemic as “Dancing Queen”, as tender as “Slipping Through My Fingers” or songs that bang as hard as “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” or “Voulez-Vous” – the best ABBA song and I’m willing to fight about it.

ABBA dropped two new songs today – “I Still Have Faith In You” and “Don’t Shut Me Down” – and I’m happy to report that their legacy remains untainted. “Don’t Shut Me Down” feels like an evening beachside party, dabbling in tropical-lite rhythms with a healthy dose of sexy saxophone. “I Still Have Faith In You” – the standout of the two – builds from a spotlit solo courtesy of Anni-Frid, before building up into a hand-in-hand ode to togetherness with searing guitars burning in the background.

We need one another / Like fighters in a ring / We’re in this together / Passion and courage is everything.”

Sure, it’s a message that borders on cringecore. They’re lyrics that you could probably find in a Disney Channel Original Movie. But, ABBA delivered two songs that don’t sound vintage, but still sound like themselves. Their reign over Europop never failed them, so why would they try and fix it?

Both songs feature on the band’s forthcoming album Voyage, which is set for release on November 5. It will feature eight other tracks, and will precede their new digital concert which must have cost an absolute fuckton of money.

They’re building an entire ARENA specifically for the event in London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. With a 3000-person capacity, the digital concert will almost be like a residency – but with an AI twist. Using motion-capture technology, it will be hologram versions of their younger selves performing, except their movements, voices and anything else these holograms do on stage were done by the members of the band specifically for this performance.

Now, I’ve been vocal about my distaste for exploitation in the name of nostalgia before. But this feels different. All four members of the band are alive and well, and didn’t have to do this if they didn’t want to. Sure, it’s not going to be the same as seeing them live, and it might feel a little jarring. It could be a total failure, but if the ship is going to sink then at least we know they stood by it.

If nothing else unites us with our neighbour, ABBA does. For the nine or so minutes the new songs run for, you’re transported to a happier time. ABBA aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel, and they’re not exactly breaking ground with this new music, but for so many people, the thought of a new ABBA album is enough to help get them through the day – and that’s all any of us can hope for.

Written by Jackson Langford, senior music and culture writer at MTV Australia. Hot takes at @jacksonlangford and hotter pics at @jacksonlangford.

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