“Do I have it in me?” So ask Abba on the first track of their final (probably) album, released on Friday 30 years after their last final album, 1981’s The Visitors.
It’s a question that hovers over this strange, confused record both in terms of the regrets and lost opportunities that make up its lyrical content and in that of the music itself.
After the global hoopla of the Voyage announcement, which saw livestreams and fan events take place all over the world and even BBC news bulletins move their timeslots to give the news space, it feels like we’ve been promised paradigm-shifting new material and ended up with a load of B-sides and rarities.
B-sides and rarities are often B-sides and rarities for a reason: because they’re too weird or not quite good enough for a headline slot. Being “too weird” has never really been an issue for Abba before; they’ve given us glittering lovelorn songs about a brand of spotlight (“Super Trouper”) and impulsively kissing teachers (“When I Kissed the Teacher”) but I’m not sure how that compares to “Bumblebee”’ which is a song about… watching a bee in the garden. All right, grandma.
In fairness, the four members of Abba are now grandparents and so it should be no surprise that the flush of new love, fresh heartbreak and youthful abandon that permeated their greatest works has not survived the aeons between then and now.
There are moments of the old tears-on-the-dancefloor at which Abba excelled and helped propel them to greater popularity in recent years: “No Doubt About It” is a sort of modernist take on an Abba classic, a rousing wedding reception classic in waiting about the kind of pointless squabble that ends marriages.
There are many pointless squabbles on the album which reminds you constantly of the relationship breakdowns that killed Abba off in the first place: “I Can Be That Woman” paints a picture of a couple disappointing their dog by having yet another fight, “Keep an Eye on Dan” about custody and visitation rights with the odd addition of Gen Z pleasing synth.
The nauseating Christmas song “Little Things”, which interpolates “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and features a children’s choir thanking Santa just made me want to go back to bed and sleep till January.
There’s a sort of Sound of Music feel to the whole endeavour; a slightly daggy, overly sentimental attempt at recapturing something that had already been lost.
Perhaps that’s what comes of writing for a stage show (the avatar-performed live extravaganza “Voyage” has been booked for at least four years’ worth of shows) or perhaps it’s what comes of trying to recreate a magic that existed only at one moment in time. Do they have it in them? Sadly, the answer on Voyage is no.
Songs to stream: Just a Notion, No Doubt About It, Keep an Eye on Dan