ROBERT HARDMAN gets blown away as Benny and Bjorn launch ABBA comeback at top of London landmark 


The Beatles never quite managed it. A few Elvis fans are still waiting, but most now know it’s not going to happen. However, rock and pop miracles do occur. And last night, we were treated to one of them.

Abba are BACK!

Half a century after they started playing together – and 40 years after they last released an album – the greatest multi-generational pop act of all time came to London to announce that not only have they reformed in the studio, they will soon be back on stage too (sort of).

The news was revealed last night by the two ‘B’s in Abba – the male, song-writing half of the band. The two ‘A’s – Agnetha Faltskog, 71, and 75-year-old Anni-Frid Lyngstad, (their ex-wives) – were watching them back in Sweden.

The Beatles never quite managed it. A few Elvis fans are still waiting, but most now know it’s not going to happen. However, rock and pop miracles do occur. And last night, we were treated to one of them. Abba are BACK!

But according to the chaps – and judging by some of the video clips we saw last night – the old spark has been rekindled (musically, not romantically that is). ‘It was so joyful to be back together,’ said Benny Anderson, 74, the beefier, balder piano-playing musical powerhouse of the band, leaning back contentedly in his chair.

Alongside him – energetic, trim and tanned – Bjorn Ulvaeus, 76, the guitar-and-words maestro, said it had been a magical moment as they had reconvened in a London studio to record their album.

‘No imagination could dream up that – to still be the best of friends and enjoy each other’s company.’

The pop world had been expecting something along these lines for some time but fans were glued online all over the world as the duo explained their plans in London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. It is here that they are now building their very own, permanent cyber-theatre – a new global hub for Abba fans everywhere.

‘London is the town,’ Benny explained unhesitatingly.

Here, they will put on a virtual show featuring their computer-enhanced selves, recorded in the present but reconfigured to look like their svelte Swedish alter-egos from yesteryear (the worst bit, they revealed, was having to shave their beards to accommodate all the sensors).

Half a century after they started playing together – and 40 years after they last released an album – the greatest multi-generational pop act of all time came to London to announce that not only have they reformed in the studio, they will soon be back on stage too (sort of)

Half a century after they started playing together – and 40 years after they last released an album – the greatest multi-generational pop act of all time came to London to announce that not only have they reformed in the studio, they will soon be back on stage too (sort of)

If some will be sad that we will no longer see them perform live but as avatars (or ‘Abbatars’) – never mind.

The fact is that they are writing and singing new songs together. And most of us never saw them perform live in the first place, anyway.

What’s more, they are quite clearly enjoying it.

It is not often that a piece of news from the world of rock and pop is met with unalloyed jubilation from the primary school playground to the nursing home via every disco, and nightclub along the way. But that is how it will be received today.

And in Sweden, where Abba is a cornerstone of national GDP, they will probably want to declare a public holiday. Abba manage to unite the ages and span the generations in a way which no other band has ever quite managed.

My nine-year-old loves Dancing Queen as does my wife and my mother (I lean more to the Winner Takes It All end of the spectrum. Her Majesty herself enjoys Dancing Queen. ‘I am the Queen and I like dancing,’ she allegedly declared when it was played at a family party some years ago and the monarch took to the floor.

The news was revealed last night by the two ‘B’s in Abba – the male, song-writing half of the band. The two ‘A’s – Agnetha Faltskog, 71, and 75-year-old Anni-Frid Lyngstad, (their ex-wives) – were watching them back in Sweden

The news was revealed last night by the two ‘B’s in Abba – the male, song-writing half of the band. The two ‘A’s – Agnetha Faltskog, 71, and 75-year-old Anni-Frid Lyngstad, (their ex-wives) – were watching them back in Sweden

A select few of us had received an opaque summons to hear an announcement as the sun was setting over the Olympic Park. The band had chosen the top floor of the Accelor Orbit – the squiggly tower next to the Olympic Stadium – to break the news.

Down below, the new Abba Voyage arena could be seen emerging from a building site. On the stroke of 6pm, a sound system exploded with their new single, I Still Have Faith In You. Call me an old softie but it genuinely was one of the high points of this apology of a year to hear a new Abba song. And it really is like the old days – no one else could have come up with something so quintessentially Abbaesque.

Aside from a few gizmos, the instruments are much the same, too. We later heard another new release, Don’t Shut Me Down. Strong hints of Voulez-Vous, I’d say, plus a healthy dose of Dancing Queen, (that’s the thing about Abba – we can all have a view).

Then into the room bounded Benny and Bjorn, both head to toe in mandatory rock ‘n roll black, for a chat with the BBC’s Zoe Ball. It was all pretty stagey, of course, but there was nothing synthetic about their fondness for one another and for their bandmates – ‘the girls’ as they call them.

Benny admitted that he had suddenly had an awful thought when they had gone in to the studio to record the new songs.

‘I should have asked myself: “Can they still sing?”,’ he admitted. It was, he said, ‘pretty emotional’ when it was abundantly clear that they had hardly changed one bit. The memories came rushing back, the bond we had, in a matter of seconds,’ Bjorn admitted, re-channelling his inner ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’.

The pop world had been expecting something along these lines for some time but fans were glued online all over the world as the duo explained their plans in London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

The pop world had been expecting something along these lines for some time but fans were glued online all over the world as the duo explained their plans in London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

No wonder it had been a moving moment. For all their intergalactic success – the best thing about being in Abba, said Benny, was ‘never having to worry about money again’ – they have had their reverses and tragedies. Anni-Frid has suffered the loss of her second husband and her daughter; Agnetha has talked of decades of mental anguish and stage fright.

All are now happily settled in their new lives but, having regrouped, they now feel what Bjorn called a sense of ‘total loyalty’.

And what had started out as a plan to record a couple of songs, they said, had snowballed in to an entire album in no time.

Made up of ten new songs, it will be released on November 5, with a possible Christmas single to follow. In the meantime, the first tickets for the digital show – a 90-minute experience including 22 songs – will go on sale online next week.

The duo also voiced their profound love of London, ‘the best city to be in’, according to Benny. There was no other candidate when it came to choosing a permanent base for an immensely complex show which has involved nearly a thousand technical experts and artists.

‘When it comes to entertainment – theatre, musicals, concerts – it is all here. It has been here for years and years and years. There is a big audience travelling here for that reason. It was a no-brainer.’

Here, they will put on a virtual show featuring their computer-enhanced selves, recorded in the present but reconfigured to look like their svelte Swedish alter-egos from yesteryear (the worst bit, they revealed, was having to shave their beards to accommodate all the sensors)

Here, they will put on a virtual show featuring their computer-enhanced selves, recorded in the present but reconfigured to look like their svelte Swedish alter-egos from yesteryear (the worst bit, they revealed, was having to shave their beards to accommodate all the sensors)

To which Bjorn chipped in: ‘We have always felt the Brits see us as their own.’ At a time when we love to paint ourselves as a global laughing stock, it is rather refreshing to hear two global giants stating their unequivocal faith in London as the cultural capital of the world.

Not that they are turning their back on Sweden in any way. It is still where they ‘get up every day’ to make music and it is still very much home.

The platform soles, tight sateen suits and floaty sequin stuff may be so old that they belong in a museum (indeed, there really is an Abba Museum in Sweden). But the songs are as evergreen as a breezy pine forest on the shores of the Baltic – the place where all this stuff was written.

The big question, of course, is this. Having evidently enjoyed getting back together so much, do these four now have more of the same up their sequinned sleeves? Let us hope so.

London’s Olympic Park has seen a fair few historic moments. Now it has seen one more.

It’s classic Abba… thank you for the new music

Review by Adrian Thrills for the Daily Mail 

Abba: I Still Have Faith In You/Don’t Shut Me Down (Polydor)

Verdict: Catchy, classy pop

Rating:

In 2009, the British public voted Abba as the band they would most like to see reunite.

If anything, the desire for the four Swedes has grown even stronger in the years since.

So yesterday’s release of I Still Have Faith In You and Don’t Shut Me Down – the pop combo’s first new singles for 39 years – didn’t disappoint as the curtain-raisers for a new studio album, Voyage, and virtual gigs next year.

Anticipation for the album is sure to reach fever-pitch in the weeks leading to its arrival in November, while the digital concerts in May 2022 at London’s Olympic Park are certain to be among the hottest tickets of the year. The question is: have they still got it?

So yesterday’s release of I Still Have Faith In You and Don’t Shut Me Down – the pop combo’s first new singles for 39 years – didn’t disappoint as the curtain-raisers for a new studio album, Voyage, and virtual gigs next year

So yesterday’s release of I Still Have Faith In You and Don’t Shut Me Down – the pop combo’s first new singles for 39 years – didn’t disappoint as the curtain-raisers for a new studio album, Voyage, and virtual gigs next year

The band’s songwriters, Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, are famous for spending weeks fussing over the finer points of a musical arrangement, and the two new tracks bear all the hallmarks of the pair’s painstaking studio processes, with instruments layered to form an instantly recognisable wall of sound.

The songs are model Bjorn and Benny compositions, sung with warmth and precision by Agnetha Faltskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad.

Still Have Faith In You is the big ballad: a rousing ode to enduring friendship and loyalty and clearly a metaphor for this week’s reunion.

Opening with orchestral strings and Andersson’s tuneful piano motif, it ebbs and flows as more instruments gradually enter the fray.

By the end, we’ve had pounding drums, guitar and brass – and belting high notes from Agnetha and Anni-Frid, their reach and power seemingly undimmed by the passage of time.

The songs are model Bjorn and Benny compositions, sung with warmth and precision by Agnetha Faltskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad

The songs are model Bjorn and Benny compositions, sung with warmth and precision by Agnetha Faltskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad

Abba’s ballads – The Winner Takes It All being the benchmark – were often melancholy affairs… but this one is positively uplifting.

Don’t Shut Me Down offers a contrast. A more up-tempo track that mixes Euro-disco with a touch of traditional German schlager music, it’s a classic Abba party tune.

In typical fashion, the buoyant melody hides a sad lyric about a woman, sitting alone on a park bench at dusk, determined to turn over a new leaf and rescue a fading romance.

When Abba were last active, in the early 1980s, they were chasing trends. Now they may be setting the agenda.

This vintage one-two suggests the Scandinavian super-troupers are back to doing what they do best: catchy, classy pop.



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