- Mark Savage
- BBC Music Correspondent
When I was three years old, my parents took me to see “ABBA: The Movie” at the Hampstead Classic Cinema in London.
At that age he was already an extreme fan of the group. I had memorized Nina, Pretty Ballerina (sorry neighbors) and my kindergarten teacher was worried because I kept writing the letter B backwards.
Unsophisticated, I thought. OR did he not know the Abba logo?
My parents must have imagined what would come when the lights went out and my heroes appeared on the big screen.
When the band started to play Tiger, I stood in my chair with my full height and I sang as loud as I could.
And so I stayed for the next 90 minutes as my family sank more and more into their seats.
“They lost their internal energy”
My love for the Swedish greatest hits makers rose and waned over the next decade, but their songs stayed on my mind: the opening of Dancing Queen, the twisted voice of Take a Chance On Me, and even the strangely wicked lyrics of Two for the Price of One.
After the band broke up, I admired the fact that they refused to reunify, overcoming any difficulties and offers of $ 1 billion in cash.
In my opinion, it was the only thing they could do. The intimacy and trust of Abba members as couples (Benny with Frida, Bjon with Agnetha, and Benny and Bjorn as writing partners) allowed them to innovate, free from interference from outsiders.
But when the marriages dissolved in the early 1980s, they lost their internal energy. His latest single, Under AttackIt turned out to be outdated and disappointing. In the UK, where the band briefly rivaled The Beatles in sales, it ranked at number 26.
“We were just starting to lose touch with mainstream pop music,” Bjorn later admitted. “You can only be part of that stream, that remarkable and mysterious force that is so difficult to define, for a limited time.”
So when the band announced three years ago they would be back in school, I felt a mixture of joy and terror. Subsequent delays, attributed to the lengthy production of a theatrical show, did nothing to allay my fears.
But here we are in 2021 with the first ABBA material since ET went out of business. And I’m happy to report that they haven’t ruined his legacy.
We joined Abba, not like the voyeurs from Do you want and Dancing Queen; but as what they are now, in their 70s, remembering their lives and looking back at the music they made in their prime.
“We never look at what the charts look like today,” Bjorn confirmed at a press conference to announce his new material. “We decided from the beginning to write the best songs that we could.”
“We are not competing against Drake and all these other guys,” he added. “We can’t do that because I don’t understand what the ingredients are in songs that work today, so it’s impossible to emulate.”
Wrestlers in a ring
The main song, I Still Have Faith in You, is an ode to their friendship and the bonds that have matured and survived despite divorce and heartbreak.
“There was a union of heart and mind, one of those that are rare,” they sing over a soft orchestral sound.
Slowly and majestically, it reaches a climax filled with powerful chords and dazzling harmonies, as the quartet says: “Through joy and pain, we have a story that survived.”
If it feels like a victory lap, it’s fair. Abba was cruelly and unjustly vilified during its heyday.
But through careful selection from their previous catalog, in particular the greatest hits compilation Abba Gold and the musical Oh Mama!, the band slowly regained its crown as the most revered and beloved pop group of the 1970s.
And although the song was inspired by their friendship, the line “We need each other, like wrestlers in a ring” seems directed to the fans who remained by their side.
The second song has less emotional resonance, but her fast pace should make her popular on radio and broadcast services streaming.
Call Don’t Shut Me Down, is another of Benny and Bjorn’s pop dramas, this time telling the story of a woman who reunites with a former lover, hanging around her old apartment until she finds the courage to knock on his door.
Agnetha, always the architect of tragic stories (Until tomorrow, Chiquitita O The Winner Takes It All), takes the lead, permeating the song with a nostalgic melody as he asks for forgiveness. The changing chords of Benny’s piano they underline their uncertainty.
After defending her case (“I’ve learned to cope, and love and hope is why I’m here now”), the song ends in suspense as we wait for her partner’s response, but it never comes. It’s an ingenious piece of pop writing from two masters of the genre.
In both songs, Benny and Bjorn avoid the trap of trying to regain their youth. These are songs from their fall years, reminiscent of their lives, loves, triumphs, and mistakes. The canvas is the same, but the colors are more opaque.
So, will I be standing in a chair singing these new songs when Abba launches its “virtual concerts” in London next year?
Well why not? We will find comfort together like old friends do.
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