Subhash K Jha Reviews The Swedish Sensation’s First Studio Album In 40 Years.
Pitch perfect! Harmonies that assail your senses in a whoosh of wondrous riffs…Rhythms that won’t leave your mind. I still get goosebumps every single time, without fail ,when I hear ABBA’s ‘Knowing Me Knowing You’. ‘I’ve Been Waiting for You,’ ‘One Of Us’ and ‘The Winner Takes It All.’
What’s it about them that makes this Swedish quartet so special, so magical? Why don’t their songs ever go away?
I though The Visitors in 1981 was their last album. But miracles never cease. ABBA is back after a 40- year hiatus. It’s like they had never left. The 10 songs are so so so wonderful , they left me giddy with happiness. I clapped, I wept , I sang along. At the end of the album I felt miraculously refurbished, rejuvenated , cleansed, blissed.And yes, blessed.
Time stands still as the two spectacular songstress’ blend vocals to create an incandescent harmony. Let me tell you ,Agnetha Fältskog and Anni Frid Lyngstad’s voices have not aged at all. When they sing, the whiriligig of every day life still stops. They are spectacular , emotional and vibrant in every track.
Oh yes, I did notice that in this album there is more of Anni Frid than Agnetha. In the earlier albums it was the other way around . Not that I am complaining.Anni Frid’s opening song of the album ‘I Still Have Faith In You’ has the power to move mountains. It’s an epic composition, the troughs and crests in Anni-Frid’s vocals are embraced by lyrics that are a love letter to the ABBA themselves: “do I have it in me, I believe it is still there…”. The composition soars like an ‘Eagle’, roars like a ‘Tiger’ and buzzes in your head like a ‘Bumblebee’.
Which is the title of Anni-Frid’s other stunning solo towards the end of the album where she is just lounging in the garden listening to the sounds of bees , watching the world go by. This is quintessential ABBA:arcadian, insulated from the travails of civilization. The most terrifying thing in this album is a broken marriage: in the deceptively fiendishly feisty ‘Keep An Eye On Dan’ Agnetha’s vocals wrap themselves around lyrics about a woman who has come to drop her little son at her estranged husband’s place. It’s a very in-the-moment song and yet the undercurrents of pain heartbreak even domestic violence follow us way past the song when Agnetha hits the last note.
That feeling of being lost in the moment which made ‘Dancing Queen’ the all-rounded ABBA anthem is predominant in ‘Just A Notion’ where a woman checks out a man across the room, pretty sure he is going to hit on her. The singalong riff in this song reminded me of a beloved old ABBA song ‘I Do I Do I Do’. But that’s a rare citing. Probably imagined by me. ABBA never, repeat NEVER, repeat themselves.
The ambrosial originality of the tracks ‘Don’t Shut Me Down’ , ‘No Doubt About It’ and ‘I Can Be That Woman’ hit me hard. Really hard. These are monumental songs and sounds only ABBA can create. Leaden with pain the melodies play out in a ravishing refrain creating pockets of perfumed paciness and pungency wrapped in a hazy urgency.
All three songs have Agnetha singing about a woman who has messed up and wants a second chance. It’s not very fashionable for women in pop songs to admit about messing up a relationship and asking for another chance.ABBA did it in their last album in the timeless reggae-tinged song ‘One Of Us’. The three sorry-I-messed-up songs in the current album are high on melody and emotions. The cadences are brought together in a tight and cuddly hug of indefinable feelings exuding a timeless beauty and harmony.
‘When You Danced With Me’ conveys a quaint Celtic dance-along cadence. It is a narrative song and and can easily be turned into a movie: a woman in a village suddenly finds herself face-to-face on the dance floor with the man who deserted her for the city.No recrimination , no rebukes. No complains.Just the moment.And the dance. An irresistibly inviting song.
The Christmas spirit of ‘The Little Things’ is hard to resist. The song with its abundance of unalloyed joy and specially the beautiful children’s choir, reminded me of ABBA’s ode to innocence ‘I Have A Dream’.
The dream never faded. The melodies are today as vivid and vibrant and imperishable as they were 40 years ago. In the closing anthemic song of the album ‘Ode To Freedom’, Anni Frid makes a wish: “I wish someone would write an ode to freedom that we all could sing.”
She’s doing just that in the song. Do you have it in you, Abba? Oh yes oh yes! You certainly do. It’s like you were never gone.