Not all comebacks are created equal. I am cheering on go-go boots and corduroy as they rise from the ashes of irrelevancy, but why must clogs and capris also cram their way through the door while it’s open? Of course, no comeback in recent memory has been quite as heavily anticipated as that of Swedish pop group, ABBA. This is, of course, in no small part due to the 40 years since the group’s last record.
But this extensive drought between releases led most to presume the worst from the group’s ninth studio album, “Voyage.” The album stood as one of those few projects that garnered both sky-high anticipation and little to no pressure. Astoundingly, the group’s talent has remained sharp, as they produced a solid record that is both a tasteful embrace of their history as well as a powerful statement of their sound’s potency in the present pop landscape.
“Just A Notion” feels closest to a classic ABBA track — and for good reason. The track was originally written and intended for the group’s 1979 album, “Voulez-Vous.” The track features a fresh instrumental layered over the original recording’s vocals. If this sounds like a recipe for a jarring listening experience, you’d be right; but, thankfully, ABBA’s new material featured on the album is strong enough to stand beside it. “I’m not the same this time around!” Agnetha Fältskog remarks on the standout track, “Don’t Shut Me Down.” Although the performance is more sedate than it might’ve been were it recorded back in their prime (we’ll take her at her word when she insists “I’m fired up”), it still remarkably matches “Just A Notion” in pure quality. The penultimate tracks, “Keep An Eye On Dan” and “No Doubt About It” have them both beat in their unique instrumental and catchy songwriting. The former track stands out with intriguing and unique lyrics that describe the relationship between divorced parents, while the latter sets itself apart with raw energy.
But the album is not all fun and games; “Voyage” is well-balanced with competent balladry. “I Can Be That Woman” contains some of ABBA’s strongest lyrical material to date. The heart-wrenching song documents a relationship surviving and recovering from a rocky period of addiction and strife. “Oh God, I’m sorry for the wasted years,” she sings, voice laced with grief and hope. What makes the song so powerful is the insular specificity of it. “And the dog, bless her heart, licks my fingers / But she jerks every time you swear,” she recalls in one of the album’s strongest moments.
While surprisingly powerful, “Voyage” is not perfect. “When You Danced With Me” sees the group tackle a fusion between pop and an Irish jig. It’s fun and endearing, but not the easiest on the ears — especially as their vocals get swallowed beneath the chaotic instrumental. “Little Things,” a Christmas ballad, is particularly abrupt in the album as the group cedes the last half-minute to a children’s choir. Early in the tracklist, these tracks may seem like cause for concern, but fortunately, they’re outliers.
The album’s greatest track is actually the first: “I Still Have Faith In You.” The group travels the galaxy in its five minute runtime. The orchestral composition builds from a low murmur in the verses, Fältskog’s entrancing voice as soft as it is powerful. As the extravagant instrumental bursts into life, she seems to provide a response to all the low expectations the album was preceded with: “We do have it in us!” After 40 years, it’s incredible that they really do.