Entertainment, Technology

ABBA announces new album, avatar-powered concert

Image credit: ABBA
Image credit: ABBA

“I’m not the one you knew, I’m now and then combined,” Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad sing in the new ABBA song “Don’t Shut Me Down”. This is one of 10 brand new songs in “Voyage”, the first new ABBA album in 40 years since the release of “The Visitors” in 1981 and the disbandment of the legendary Swedish group in 1982.

With estimated sales of 150 million records worldwide during a remarkable run where they consistently topped the charts around the globe from 1974 to 1983, ABBA is one of the most popular and commercially successful music artists of all time. To the delight of millions of their fans, ABBA announced on a YouTube live stream on Sept. 3 that they are making an unlikely comeback in 2021 with their ninth studio album that will be released on Nov. 5. This will be followed by a revolutionary concert that kicks off on May 27, 2022 in a custom-built arena at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The ABBA Voyage concert will feature ABBA digital avatars — dubbed the ABBAtars — created using state-of-the-art motion capture technology, who will perform alongside a 10-piece band. You may pre-order the album and register for pre-sale tickets at the ABBA Voyage site.

‘I Still Have Faith in You’

“Voyage” is the perfect title for the album because this has been a long journey for the band, and an emotional one for its members and their fans.

ABBA — whose name is acronym of the first letters of the names of members Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad (better known by her nickname Frida) — was once composed of two couples. The band’s popularity took its toll on their marriages, with Fältskog and Ulvaeus separating in late 1978, with their divorce being finalized in 1980. Meanwhile, Lyngstad and Andersson separated in 1980 and divorced in 1981. While the band kept going, the struggles in their relationships were reflected in their music. Perhaps the most famous example is “The Winner Takes It All”, which Ulvaeus wrote for Fältskog and was inspired by the heartache of their breakup, though he said “the basis is the experience of a divorce, but it’s fiction“.

ABBA has already made two of the songs from “Voyage” available ahead of the release of the album: “I Still Have Faith in You” and “Don’t Shut Me Down”.

The lyrics of “I Still Have Faith in You” are particularly poignant for longtime fans.

Do I have it in me?
I believe it is in there
For I know I hear a bittersweet song
In the memories we share

I still have faith in you
And I will say
I never really thought I’d feel this way
But I remind myself
Of who we are
How inconceivable is it to reach this far

‘Don’t Shut Me Down’

Meanwhile, “Don’t Shut Me Down” is a giddier song that showcases the classic ABBA flourish.

And now you see another me, I’ve been reloaded, yeah
I’m fired up, don’t shut me down
I’m like a dream within a dream that’s been decoded
I’m fired up, I’m hot, don’t shut me down
I’m not the one you knew
I’m now and then combined
And I’m asking you to have an open mind
I’m not the same this time around
I’m fired up, don’t shut me down

The ABBAtars. Image credit: ABBA
The ABBAtars. Image credit: ABBA

Listening to these new songs, you realize that after 40 years, the familiar magic of ABBA is still there, but the group has also evolved and matured. The song might as well describe the band itself — they are “now and then combined”.

Talent and technology

Image credit: ABBA
Image credit: ABBA

As innovators — Ulvaeus, for instance, is an advocate for cashless transactions and stopped using paper money in 2011 — it is fitting that ABBA is embracing technology and combining it with their natural talents.

Imagine how this groundbreaking concert will open a new world of possibilities for creating and experiencing music.

Their songs are timeless, and have seen a resurgence in popularity since the 90s with covers and tribute groups, and then “Mamma Mia!” the musical in 1999. The release of the “Mamma Mia!” movie in 2008, which was based on the musical, made ABBA’s music a worldwide phenomenon again.

The writer at ABBA The Museum in Stockholm during his visit to Sweden in 2016. The phone that he is holding was used by his favorite ABBA member, Agnetha Fältskog, in the promotion photos for “Ring Ring” in 1972.
The writer at ABBA The Museum in Stockholm during his visit to Sweden in 2016. The phone that he is holding was used by his favorite ABBA member, Agnetha Fältskog, in the promotion photos for “Ring Ring” in 1972.

In 2013, ABBA The Museum opened in Stockholm. It has an interactive stage where you become the fifth member of ABBA by performing with their digital avatars. As someone who has visited the museum, I can assure you it’s a mindblowing experience. But of course that technology pales in comparison with the advances that have been made for the ABBAtars that will form at the ABBA Voyage concert.

Listening to these new songs, you would hardly believe that Fältskog is already 71 while Lyngstad is 75. They still have two of the most angelic voices of all time, and the magic of ABBA is in large part the incredible sound of the combined voices of these two women. It’s as if they were born to sing together.

ABBA is back. In a way, they never left, because their music has always been with us.

Thank you for the music, ABBA. And thank you for ABBA, Sweden.