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review

ABBA in the studio working on their new album Voyage.Ludvig Andersson/Courtesy of Universal Music Group

The record’s first track is I Still Have Faith in You, a ballad so proud and dignified it could be used to accompany an Olympic Games medal ceremony. Either Sweden has won gold in the luge or ABBA is back with its first album in four decades.

“There was a union of heart and mind, the likes of which are rare and, oh, so hard to find.” The voice is the unmistakable mezzo-soprano belonging to Anni-Frid Lyngstad. Or is it Agnetha Fältskog? It doesn’t matter – soon enough the pair join in well-remembered harmony. Once shiny and perpetually anxious, the voices have mellowed and taken on a golden sheen.

Recalling the majestic melancholia of the 1980 hit The Winner Takes It All, the towering chorus of I Still Have Faith in You overcomes that song’s initial self-doubt: “We do have it in us, new spirit has arrived,” a renewed ABBA sings. “The joy and the sorrow, we have a story and it survived.”

A mountaintop electric guitar squeals in the distance. Members of a concert orchestra hired for the occasion wipe away their tears to play on. Euro-pop’s Fleetwood Mac and Top 40 radio’s version of Stockholm syndrome has risen to the occasion and captured our imagination once again.

The new album is Voyage, and ABBA is nothing if not a trip. Prepackaged pop purveyors in the mood ring era, the blonde quartet of married couples Fältskog and Björn Ulvaeus and Lyngstad and Benny Andersson went from winning the Eurovision Song Contest with Waterloo in 1974 to becoming one of the most commercially successful pop acts in history, thanks to sugar-high hits Fernando, Dancing Queen, SOS and Take a Chance on Me.

The music was sleek, well-crafted and inoffensive. Though many adored it, others were determined to take offence. Both ABBA couples were divorced by 1981. Going on hiatus in 1982, the band stripped its spandex and took to the saunas indefinitely.

The sentimental Voyage takes us here and there.Baillie Walsh/Courtesy of Universal Music Group

ABBA’s brand was revived with the jukebox musical Mamma Mia! in 1999, followed by a feature film of the same name in 2008 starring the noted song-and-dance lady Meryl Streep. Ten years later, the “here we go again” band announced it had recorded two new songs: The string-laden Don’t Shut Me Down and the aforementioned I Still Have Faith in You.

This week’s release of the 10-track Voyage sets up a nostalgia-driven concert residency in London next spring featuring the digital avatars of the four ABBA members in their prime 1979 form. The virtual Abbatars (!) will front a live 10-piece band. On Don’t Shut Me Down, ABBA trips the Electric Light Orchestra fantastic and explains its re-emergence:

And you wonder why I’m here today

And so you should, I would

When I left, I felt I’ve had enough

But in the shape and form, I appear now

I have learned to cope,

and love and hope is why I am here now …

Released earlier this year, both Don’t Shut Me Down and I Still Have Faith in You carry an air of resilience and defiant triumph. Neither are quite up to the standards of the band’s glory years, but there should be no shame in that. There should be no shame when it comes to musical taste, anyway – if you don’t know that, ABBA has failed you.

The sentimental Voyage takes us here and there, from the Christmas tune Little Things, to the shouty rock of No Doubt About It, to the maudlin I Can Be That Woman, which has a “screw you!” line that dares a cover version by Celine Dion. Just a Notion, boogie without the woogie, was built to play over the end credits of a Sandra Bullock romp.

One shouldn’t describe Voyage as a comeback album. It’s more of a slight return. That it stirs up polyester memories without diminishing a legacy is its best accomplishment. ABBA never meant any harm. It still doesn’t.

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